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GSS 397 students examine women in public discourse

Ten students in GSS 397: Feminist Media Studies presented Thursday on topics they chose at the beginning of the semester in a symposium titled “More than MAD WOMEN: Examining Gender in Public Discourse.” Each student used examples from the media and popular culture, historical events and personal experiences to present the importance of their topic in relation to public discourse on it, as well as ideas moving forward for how to change or rethink the discourse.

The class, taught by professor Melissa Deem, a lecturer in the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, focuses on the representation of women and feminism in various forms of media.

Kayla Bose ’16 said Deem proposed the idea of a symposium in order to present the culmination of their research. Sam Kaseta ’15 said the symposium was largely student-planned, with the students splitting up the duties among themselves.

Students in the class also founded the Findingfeministvoices blog and will publish some of their works in the on-campus feminist publication, Equal Writes.

Kaseta shared her findings in a short film in which she explored how women reconcile masculinity and its role in female leadership. Her film, called “Alpha Bitch,” cited historical and media examples of women, like Margaret Thatcher, who adopted masculine behavior to succeed in the workplace.

“My take on feminism is that it’s not about becoming more dominant necessarily, it’s about being accepted for who you are and as a woman regardless of your characteristic,” one student featured in the film said.

Bose spoke on women’s desire to “have it all,” meaning a successful career as well as a family life, noting that women who choose family over career redirect their previous ambitions towards family. Bose said she believed warning young women that they can’t have it all can be harmful, and that youth should instead be inspired to pursue this goal.

Scot Tasker ’16 discussed the role of women on the show “Survivor.” Tasker noted that one woman who switched alliances during the present season was seen as making “estrogen-driven,” emotionally-based decisions, while another was seen as simply being strategic.

Kat Kulke ’17 discussed the introduction of the “waif” figure, through Kate Moss’s modeling in Calvin Klein’s “Obsession” perfume ads and the ensuing public outcry. Kulke said her main argument was that the strong public backlash of concern for the influence on health of young women showed Moss’s thin, “heroin-chic” body type was a weapon. She had the cultural power to influence women’s health and society’s perception of womanhood itself, Kulke added.

Audrey Dantzlerward ’16 examined the influence of gaming on gender representation through its ability to let people experience altered personas. Dantzlerward said seeing her younger brother consistently choose female avatars when gaming allowed her to see how gaming can help gamers empathize for the opposite sex.

William Howard ’14 spoke about “conversational trump cards,” using the nationwide discourse on “checking privilege” as a lens through which to look at how different experiences or acknowledgements of systematic imbalance can be used to “trump” opposition, causing some to dismiss others’ opinions without proper attention.

Howard urged listeners to “first, realize that all knowledge claims are situated in personal experience, whether that experience is privileged or underprivileged, and second to therefore be careful with how they deploy experiential claims.”

Naimah Hakim ’16 spoke about interracial couples and families, and how they can become public spectacles because they are still not seen as completely “normal.” She pointed to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s biracial family as well as the media portrayal of his wife, Chirlane McCray, as a “former lesbian” as an example of how race and sexuality make people uncomfortable in the realm of politics.

Meredith Brown ’15 presented on the antifeminism memes prevalent in social media outlets and the necessity of conversations above the subliminal message of the memes.

Tyler Lussi ’17 spoke about the need for and benefits of an attitude of gender neutrality, citing the success of a gender-neutral philosophy with professional soccer player Mia Hamm.

Last to present was Allison Kruk ’15, who spoke about the murder of African-American teen Renisha McBride. Kruk framed her presentation around the injustice of a system she said allowed and defended the actions of the shooter, Theodore Wafer.

Kruk is a former news writer for The Daily Princetonian.

The symposium, which was held at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday in McCormick 101, was followed by a discussion and reception where audience members were allowed to talk to the presenters and hear about their topics in more detail.

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