Seriously, What is it With Skinny Jeans?

I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately by the news.  There is almost too much going on right now.  You’ve got Arizona making a bunch of crazy laws, the Times Square scare, the Gulf oil spill crisis, and (while it isn’t all over television news, it has been making quite a splash in the legal community) the racist email written by a Harvard law student.  Is that all?  I feel like I’m missing something.

Well, as I was slogging through a bunch of these grim stories on my Google reader, I realized something: Skinny jeans and leggings have been in the news a lot lately!  Really, they have!  It’s weird.  And since it is weird, I began to question myself:  What if skinny jeans and leggings have been in the news no more than usual?  What if this is just me acting out of a need for “lighter” news in these trying times for our nation?  Or, are skinny jeans and leggings really loaded cultural symbols that reflect societal opinions and beliefs?

The story that began all of this came out of Australia.  On May 1st, a jury acquitted a 23-year-old man accused of raping a 24-year-old woman because she was wearing skinny jeans.  Yes, you read right.  Apparently, skinny jeans are the type that cannot be removed without collaboration and teamwork.  The jury found it unbelievable that a man would be able to pull these jeans off of this tiny, tiny woman (42 kg, or 92.4 lbs., according to the article) without her help.  Over at Feministing, Jos Truitt argued that this decision “smacks of slut shaming and victim blaming.”  Truitt continues, “I think focusing on the skinny jeans is meant to suggest that the survivor was dressed provocatively, which in turn is meant to imply she must have wanted it.”  I agree with Truitt, and the Italian court that reportedly said, “Jeans cannot be compared to any type of chastity belt,” when upholding a rape conviction in 2008.

Moving on to skinny jeans appearance #2.  This story also happens to come from Australia, but involves people from many other places as well.  An amazing and, as she would say, fancy girl named Natalie from Australia has a blog in which she writes about art, design, fashion, and advocates for fat acceptance.  Natalie posts many pictures of herself on her blog to show readers her outfits and accessories, and she also lists where she bought her things.  One such picture of Natalie ended up being posted to a facebook group called, “There’s a weight limit on leggings & skinny jeans.”  I felt ill when I heard this existed and even more ill when I saw that it has over 700,000 members (including a facebook friend of mine… who has since been de-friended).  Anyway, Natalie wrote an incredible blog post on how she dealt with this situation, and on how she deals with society’s rejection of body type-diversity in general.  I wish I were as level-headed and confident as her all of the time.

Skinny jeans: Some collaboration required.

After reading these two stories, I became very suspicious of skinny jeans.  Here we have one piece of clothing that is being used to deride women who wear them in one instance (rape case) and to praise them in the another (facebook group – albeit in a way that simultaneously insults others through exclusion).  But, isn’t this bizarre?  You, skinny girl, who we, as society, deem worthy to wear these skinny jeans, should feel exalted, loved, and worthy as part of a select group who get to don these denim duds without derision.  But, be careful!  We also think you are kind of slutty for wanting to wear them in the first place because you are showing everything, and if you ever claim, “rape,” we will know that it just isn’t true because you just had to help him get those crazy jeans off of you!

I really had it with skinny jeans and leggings when I read a recent article in the New York Times called, “On Formspring, an E-Vite to Teenage Insults.”  Now, this article deals with another world of issues that, as a law review article author-turned-blogger might say, is beyond the scope of this blog post.  The basics are that there is a new website/social media tool called Formspring, which allows you to post a question about yourself and have a bunch of your friends answer it anonymously.  Now, why on earth I would ever want to do that, I just don’t know… but 13-year-old-me would probably be all about this, and according to the NYT, many 13-year-olds are all about it.

The NYT spoke to Ariane Barrie-Stern, a freshman at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School in New York City, who said, “I think it’s interesting to find out what people really think that they don’t have the guts to say to you.  If it’s hurtful, you have to remind yourself that it doesn’t really mean anything.”  Except it did mean something to Ariane.  She stopped wearing leggings after she received a comment about a certain pair that she had worn.

Where did all of these expectations about “the kind of woman” that wears skinny jeans and leggings come from?  Why are they the expectations that they are?  Where did skinny jeans and leggings even come from?  I can’t help but see skinny jeans and leggings as more wheels in the machine that make women overly self-conscious.  They’ve become another part of the daily puzzle when getting dressed to walk the lines between being pretty and attractive, but not slutty or “inviting,” and certainly not “manly.”  This is the year 2010, people.  It’s about damn time to once and for all shift the focus away from what we, as women, should or should not be wearing, and put it on what we can and will be learning, achieving, and changing.

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Not So Soft

One very, very common stereotype of women is that they are sweeter, nicer, and gentler than men.  I’ve learned through conversations on the topic that many people, including women, do not even understand this to be a problem.  Being nice is a compliment, right?  Sure, but not when it’s applied to all women as a generalization.

Michelle Cottle has a great article in the May 13,2009 edition of The New Republic called, “Pink Elephants,” about the “strange feminism of Sarah Palin and Liz Cheney.”  She writes:

“Forget civility and compromise: [Palin, Bachmann, and Cheney] stand out for their ability to rant, rave, name-call, fingerpoint, and peddle the most outrageous distortions in service to their cause.  (Death panels anyone?)  And none seems burdened by the reluctance to self-promote that so often undermines professional women.

…I cannot help but be impressed by – and even a bit grateful to – these conservative girls gone wild.  Say what you will about their ideology; these angry female fringe-dwellers are arguably doing more than anyone to tear down some of the most tiresome stereotypes about women in politics.

You know what I’m talking about:  Every few years someone writes a book, publishes a study, or simply drops a quote suggesting what a kinder, gentler, less competitive, more collaborative, less power-crazed, and fundamentally more ethical place Washington would be if only the gals were in charge.”

Unfortunately, this stereotype doesn’t just exist in politics.  I’ve heard it in law school, too, from both professors and classmates.  Would corporations be nicer to consumers, the environment, etc. if more women were in charge?  Would law firms be less competitive and provide better client services if more women were partners?  In a class in which U.S. v. Virginia was discussed, many classmates agreed that the U.S. Supreme Court essentially ruined the Viriginia Military Institute (VMI) by requiring it to admit women because their presence would “feminize” (read: soften) the adversative methods of the Institute.  They did not use those words exactly, but the language in the case itself shows that was really VMI’s concern.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writes:

“Virginia next argues that VMI’s adversative method of training provides educational benefits that cannot be made available, unmodified, to women.  Alterations to accommodate women would necessarily be ‘radical,’ so ‘drastic,’ Virginia asserts, as to transform, indeed ‘destroy,’ VMI’s program.  . . . Neither sex would be favored by the transformation, Virginia maintains: Men would be deprived of the unique opportunity currently available to them; women would not gain that opportunity because their participation would ‘eliminat[e] the very aspects of [the] program that distinguish [VMI] from . . . other institutions of higher education in Virginia.'”

Ginsburg answers Virginia’s arguments by pointing out that there is no proof whatsoever that VMI’s adversative method would suffer by admitting women, and that such arguments raised by Virginia are the same ones that are “routinely” used to deny women opportunities and equal rights, such as admission to practice in the professional fields of law and medicine.

Regardless of how Palin and Cheney feel about the decision in Virginia, they do seem to fight the stereotype of women advanced by Virginia in the case, and still believed by many in the legal profession.  And for that, I give them props.

“we learn America like a script

playwright

birthright

same thing

we bring

ourselves to the role…”

Not So Soft, Ani DiFranco

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“The Paper Chase” Meets “The Banner Chase”

It could be argued that in Dante’s Inferno, the Vestibule of Hell was worse than any of the circles of Hell insofar as it was the most unpleasant for the souls there.  This is supported by the text (Canto III):  Virgil tells Dante that the people in the Vestibule are “envious of every other fate.” (Emphasis added).  The heavens will not accept them, and neither will the abyss.  “Wow,” one thinks, “Are these murderers?  Rapists?  What did they do that was so bad?”  The answer:  They were apathetic.

They are the melancholy souls of those who lived without infamy or praise.  They did nothing in their lives, for good or for evil, but only for “self.”  Scattered among them are the Angels who took neither side in the War in Heaven that resulted in Lucifer’s expulsion.  For all of eternity, these self-interested souls are doomed to chase a banner, which can never be caught, while gadflies and hornets sting them, and maggots drink their blood and tears.

It’s utterly fascinating that Dante would choose to give these souls, the indifferent and apathetic ones, the worst fate.  Basically, he is saying that it is worse to do nothing than to do evil, which is a really brave thing to assert.  I suppose it could also be interpreted as:  it is worse to only be motivated by self-interest than to be motivated by evil.  But, still, that is quite a thing to say!

Today, many of us would probably disagree with Dante.  Many people would be outraged by the notion that a murderer deserves a better fate in hell than some dude with no convictions.  (Please note that when I say “better,” I am still comparing two horrible and undesirable fates, and to that extent, one can only be so much better than the other).  Part of this outrage and distaste might arise from the realization that most of us would be included in the indifferent and apathetic crowd, and none of us want to consider ourselves as somehow deserving of a worse fate than an “active sinner,” if you will.

The law certainly does not agree with Dante on this point.  The law does not punish people who are indifferent, apathetic, or who do not take sides.  Sometimes, it even encourages people to be this way.  Take protests, for example.  Many people may be deterred from protesting for something good and worthy out of the fear that they will be arrested.  By looking out for their own self-interest, they refrain from taking sides in the matter.  And unlike Dante’s G-d, the law does not reward selfless good actions (with the exception of a few tax exemptions or scholarships here and there).  This only increases the likelihood that people will act self-interestedly, indifferent to issues that do not directly involve them.

Lawyer/law school culture definitely promotes amoral, self-interested behavior (note:  amoral, not immoral).  Law students are encouraged not to care about anything beyond their grades and class rank.  They must be careful about what student organizations they join, or include on their resumes, because they may affect their chances of getting the job.  They must also modify their appearances, even if it means changing something about which he or she felt strongly, in order to appease an employer or judge.

When students object to having to do these things to get a job, or to having a value system that relies solely on grades, they are not received well.  They are considered naive, unrealistic, or lacking experience.  Those who try to shift the focus away from grades are assumed to be doing so because they have bad grades, and so are probably not worth listening to anyway.  It is accepted and expected that students will spend all of their time trying to get the best grades, and will sacrifice their beliefs and convictions to get whatever high-paying job they can.  Especially in an economic situation like the one in which we currently find ourselves, the more one sticks to his or her convictions at the risk of losing a job opportunity, the more one is regarded as having lost touch with reality.

Opportunism is just a reflection of the values of a capitalist society.  Here, money is what matters.  “Success” means making a lot of money, and “freedom” means having the money to buy whatever stuff you want.  If you have different definitions of success and freedom, you will most likely be an outcast in law school and in many parts of society, but look on the bright side: you’re less likely to be stuck in the Vestibule!

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The War on Terror Against Women

I once saw a bumper sticker that said, “Fascism comes in many forms.”  Well, so does terrorism.  Merriam-Webster actually defines “terrorism” as, “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.”  With that in mind, let us watch:

Better yet:

Brinks Home Security actually has an entire page on YouTube dedicated to these commercials (My personal favorites are “First Date” and “The House Party”) .  All of them feature male intruders. All of them feature female victims.  And all of them feature male saviors in the form of Brinks employees.

The consistent male intruder  –> female victim –> male savior scenario tells us that not only are women subject to violence from men, they are also dependent upon them for their safety.  This creates an especially terrifying picture:  the very people I am supposed to trust are also the ones that will hurt me!  And in my own home!  Without consciously or explicitly thinking this, a female viewer will probably still feel the effects.

Brinks hopes that the terror its ads inspire in female viewers will cause them to purchase a home security system, and indeed, many of them may do so.  However, the ads may effect a woman’s thinking in more ways than that.  It may cause her to feel uncomfortable being alone in her apartment or house.  It may cause her to be more distrustful of men, but at the same time, it may cause her to feel more dependent upon men.  She may only feel safe at home if a man is there with her.  And yet, she may not feel safe on a first date unless a girlfriend is there, too.

Of course, one viewing of a commercial like this will probably not cause a tremendous shift in thinking all at once.  But, it’s naive to think that our ideas, opinions, and beliefs are completely uninfluenced by such subtle (or not so subtle) messages.

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Yay Reading!

I am so happy to see that some professors are talking about the importance of knowing how to read to success in law school.  Law Professor Leah Christensen has written a law review article in which she describes previous studies and her own study that reveal that students who receive higher grades in law school read differently than students who receive lower grades.  She uses a fascinating research method called “The Think Aloud Procedure,” which requires students to literally think aloud as they read the case.  Christensen then parses the transcripts from the think aloud procedure sessions to demonstrate that students use different reading methods.  There is a strong correlation between students’ grades and the reading methods they use.

The two main methods of reading that Christensen saw students using that had a correlation to their grades were problematizing strategies and default strategies.  Problematizing occurs when readers “engage[] in strategic behavior and work[] to solve problems as they read . . . .”  Default strategies involve linear progressions through the text, such as paraphrasing.  Studies show that students who get higher law school grades employ problematizing strategies more often than students who get lower grades, while students who get lower grades employ default strategies more often than students who get higher grades.

I think a lot of people, not just law students, read completely passively, which is what I consider similar to reading using default strategies.  Books like Twilight, Harry Potter, and anything on the “Beach Reads” shelf tend to encourage this kind of reading.  These kinds of books are fine for entertainment, but it’s worrisome when those are the only sorts of books people read anymore.  I recently purchased William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury at a Borders, and the sales clerk told me he was happy to see someone finally buying a real book.

The tendency to read passively is especially dangerous when it comes to newspaper stories.  The more people read them without asking questions or trying to solve problems they come across as they read, the more likely people will be to believe anything they read.  This problem translates to television news reports and also speeches by politicians.  People should always be using problematizing strategies when listening to such things.  A word of caution:  Trying to use such problematizing strategies while listening to Sarah Palin speak may cause severe migraines.

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Talkin’ ‘Bout My [Judgmental] Generation

If what Jessica Grose writes in her recent article is true, my generation probably doesn’t listen to the The Who.   Sometimes called the Millennial Generation or Generation Y,  the generation of which I am a part is composed of people born in the mid-1970s to the early 2000s.

In her article, Grose describes the change in attitude towards sexual promiscuity from the baby boomer generation to the millennials.  The millennials are much less accepting of it than the boomers were.  They think it is so despicable that the old double standard of “promiscuous women are sluts, but promiscuous men are awesome” is fading away: millennials consider it just as unappealing for men to be promiscuous as it is for women.

Grose says that this change may be explained as the millennials reaction to what they see as the boomers’ immoral ways, or as the result of growing up in a “post-AIDS world,” where the dangers of promiscuity are frequently discussed in public fora.

It’s a good thing for that double standard, symptomatic of the “woman as property” line of thinking, to disappear, but is it a good thing for it to disappear as a result of an increase in behavior-disapproval, as opposed to a thought-out realization that it’s a ridiculous double standard?  I would argue that it is not.

I think its conceivable that disapproval of sexual promiscuity can influence thinking and opinion in regards to abortion and sexual offenders.  The more disapproving a person is of sexual promiscuity, the more likely it is that that person will not want abortions to be legal.  The disapproving person will not want promiscuous people to have such an “easy” way out of dealing with the consequences of their irresponsible actions (what a way to think of a baby!).

This attitude of the millennials is also dangerous in terms of the way it may shape public opinion or policy towards sexual offenders.  Already they are made out to be evil villains, incapable of reform.  A disapproval of sexual promiscuity among peers may lead to an even greater disapproval when it comes to sexual offenders.  Disclaimer:  In no way am I saying we should allow sexual offenders to continue to offend.  I’m saying that by continuing to vilify them, we’re not solving the problem.  The more a person feels like a social exile, the less likely that person is going to seek help.  Even if a sexual offender does attempt to get help, it is unlikely that a society who watches hours of Nancy Grace will welcome that attempt, thereby perpetuating the problem.

I feel compelled to make another disclaimer:  I am not promoting promiscuity, but simply highlighting the dangers that might accompany unexamined moral disapproval of it.

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Undermining

I think Albert Camus got it right when he said, “Beginning to think is beginning to be undermined.”

I live for this feeling of being undermined.  Unfortunately, since college, it hasn’t happened that often.  It’s difficult to describe the feeling.  It’s disorienting and scary, but thrilling at the same time.

I may be speaking too vaguely, so I’ll use a very basic example.  Prior to traveling overseas, my concept of the world was: (don’t yell at me) America and then some other little countries that try to be America.  Traveling overseas and living a life in another country made me realize something – America is just another country, among tons of other countries!  This might sound ridiculous, but it was a huge shift in perspective for me at a young age.

A similar undermining happened when I read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.  He articulated the fear that I had that our view of the world is not the over-arching, be-all, and end-all view of the world.  Rather, it’s just the human view.  We are not overseers of the world, we are part of it.  It follows that as long as I am a human part of the world, I will only be able to see the world through a human lens.  My understanding is necessarily limited by what I am.  This means I won’t be able to understand the world as it is in-itself, or as anything else besides what it is when it appears to a human.

…This is huge.  Science no longer tells us how things really are, but only how we see them.  Religion no longer tells us whether there is really a G-d, but only whether we perceive there to be one.  If this isn’t “being undermined,” then I don’t know what is.

A good education should instill a will-to-be-undermined in this way in students.  I think the problem with a lot of people today is that they have the exact opposite problem – they refuse to challenge their own thinking.  They think, or rather they know that “truth” exists, and that it is easy to find.  For example, if a man is found guilty of a crime, then that is the truth.  He committed the crime, and he should be punished for it.  But, when we remember our position – that we are not the final interpreters of the world, but merely things in the world limited to our own way of understanding – it changes one’s perspective, and what is truth, and even whether it exists, becomes a little less certain.  This kind of thinking infuses a caution into decision-making.  A caution that is especially important when deciding whether to lock a person up or not.

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