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Respect must be earned: BTS’ journey towards gaining its stripes in black America

EDIT: This article is OVER 9000!

This article in its final form has been published at Reappropriate, with some extra additions to make the post even more engaging, and once the readers latched on to it, it went VIRAL!  Thanks to everyone who made the Reappropriate version of this post go viral, and thanks to Jenn at Reappropriate for publishing it! Much appreciated. And if BTS ever reads this, Monique noona writes out of love.


When I first wrote my article about BTS coming to the AMAs, I was quite excited to see this infamous K-pop group I’d heard so much about in the days leading up to the awards show. I was very happy that they got the chance to perform on a big international stage like the AMAs, which will, I think, only serve as the biggest stepping stone yet towards K-pop’s eventual domination of the American airwaves. As I wrote on Twitter after viewing BTS perform (and seeing the crowd, especially the fans, whipped up into a frenzy), it felt like what seeing the Beatles for the first time must have been like.

So far, BTS has been on a roll since their big AMAs debut; they’ve already hob-knobbed with R&B it-boy Khalid and have already released a track featuring Desiigner and Steve Aoki,”Mic Drop”. Everything’s going well. For BTS, anyways.

The rest of K-pop, however, still has a lot of hurdles to climb if they want to get to Beatles-esque levels in America. While there are many reasons K-pop hasn’t yet made it to top-tier status in the States–language barriers, stereotypes about Asian performers held by music execs, general American disinterest when it comes to international music that isn’t British or Canadian–the biggest reason is because K-pop, as a whole, has a race issue.

Throughout K-pop’s history, there have been instances of anti-blackness, whether it’s intentional or unintentional, such as wearing blackface in a way that’s similar to the ganguros of Japan, who self-identify with the black rapper image so much that they darken their skin, blurring the line of wayward appreciation, fetishism, and straight offense. There has been colorism, such as some members of groups poking fun at other group members’ tan skin. There’s intense fetishism, one of the defining traits of K-pop. It colors how K-pop idols–K-pop male idols specifically– interact with black men; an association with a black man can be perceived as getting an “all clear” or a “black card” without a true understanding of the culture they love and mimic. It also colors how the male idols interact with black women. Yes, many K-pop idols, male and female, love Beyonce, Rihanna and Tinashe, and some male idols even claim to prefer black women as romantic interests. But are black women–rappers, dancers, and fans–seen as just hypersexual objects or are they seen as legitimate collaborators in a larger conversation in music and culture?

The other overriding factor of K-pop is the exoticism of the Black Rap Image, such as dressing in the “black rapper” style, affecting a “blaccent,” and mimicking notable rapper mannerisms. As shown by such has-beens like Iggy Azalea, being blatantly fake will only get you so far.

In short, K-pop has a credibility issue as well as a sensitivity issue. Can K-pop fix these two problems and get firmly on the road towards American domination? It seems like if there’s any group to do it, BTS is definitely the one most prepared for the task. Through a trial-by-fire in the form of a reality show three years ago, BTS has gained the knowledge necessary to possibly become the first K-pop group to actually go beyond the mimicry of other acts and develop a brand that openly and honestly respects its black musical forefathers and foremothers in a way that could win over black America, and by extension, the rest of the country.

Fakery Versus Reality

Screencap from BTS’ “Drop the Mic” music video

It is unclear what people expected from BTS when they arrived for the AMAs. But from every interview they’ve done for the week they were in L.A., it’s apparent that they succeeded in winning hearts. With how they presented themselves, winning hearts and changing minds were their top priorities.

From what I’ve learned about BTS so far, it seems they’re a K-pop band that understands the racial hurdles the best. They came with the knowledge of how the Asian diaspora is stereotyped in America, especially if you’re trying to make it in the music business.

BTS group leader and rapper RM (formerly known as Rap Monster), seems particularly astute to what the stakes are, since not only did he have to act as the English-speaking spokesman for the group during their time in America, but he also knows enough about America’s stereotypes against Asian performers to comment on how the AMAs treated the band with respect.

“The AMAs didn’t treat us as a curious novelty from Asia, but showed us respect and treated us as an important part of the show,” he told Metro UK. “They put our performance right before Diana Ross, and we were introduced by the Chainsmokers, who are very popular in the United States. It was clear in many ways that they knew a lot about us and had prepared for our appearance for a long time.”

RM is different from what many Westerners perceive the K-pop idol to be. Aside from being highly intelligent–he has an IQ of 148–he’s introspective and, as you’ll read later in this post, actually seems to apply the lessons he’s learned from some of his more haunting mistakes. Also, his journey in the music industry, coupled with his personality, has imbued in him an “anti-mainstream” sensibility.

On top of that, he also has a rap cred that’s hard to come by if you’re a singer or rapper that has come up through idol school. Unlike some of the other members of BTS, RM and fellow groupmate Suga cut their teeth in Korea’s underground rap scene. If you work your way up from the grimy bottom, you’re bound to learn some things an idol class won’t teach you, both from personal experience and self-education. He’s already had to prove himself worthy to be called a rapper because of his decision to join a boy band; he’s already taken on other rappers who have tried to start beef through his cover of Drake’s “Too Much,” which features RM talking about being perceived, as reported by Noisey’s Blanca Méndez, “a sell-out.” In fact, many of the songs RM has written for the rookie band feature “the inner conflicts that Rap Monster, Suga and J-Hope have as idol rappers.” His 2015 mixtape continues the thread of exploring the duality of himself and his inner and outer conflicts.

It’s this grounding in underground rap that could prove to be part of BTS’ secret weapon for breaking out of the confines of Korean popularity and into the international stratosphere. What will also come in handy is an experience other K-pop groups might not have had–a military style bootcamp on the history of hip hop and rap from none other than one of the legends of rap, Coolio as part of a 2014 reality series, American Hustle Life, in which the boys get on-the-ground training from legends in R&B and hip hop in LA, the home turf of West Coast rap.

Screencap of RM with Warren G in the music video for “P.D.D. (Please Don’t Die).” Warren G produced the track for RM after getting to know him through the reality series “American Hustle Life.”

As Méndez wrote in 2014, one reason many Americans–particularly black Americans–don’t really see it for K-pop, at least initially, is the amount of fakery that defines its performers. That fakeness comes down to not understanding blackness at all.

Though Rap Monster and his groupmates may be relatively well-versed in current hip-hop music, it’s hard to understand the music without fully understanding the culture. It’s even harder to do so in a place so far from the source, especially since, for a country that consumes and repackages hip-hop culture as much as it does, Korea has some serious issues with anti-blackness.

As it stands now, K-pop is a touch-and-go situation for many American pop and rap fans, especially if you’re black. Because Korea’s homogenous culture can perpetuate an ignorance of (or in some cases, an unwillingness to learn about) black stereotypes and offensive words (such as the power of the N-word and blackface), and because of the K-pop machine’s rigorous M.O. of flawlessly copying without completely understanding of the culture its imitating, there’s a weird, virulent strain of fetishism, exoticism, and anti-blackness running throughout K-pop as a cultural entity.

Even BTS, early in their formation, couldn’t escape some of the same egregious mistakes that have befallen other K-pop idols. The group has had their own brushes with the N-word, which had courted extreme controversy. A younger RM would run off at the mouth about how talking black was “a talent” he was good at. Up until their education with the actual rap greats themselves, BTS was like any other K-pop group: problematic. Some fans even labeled them “racist.”

But what’s the difference between abject racism–which is apparent in Korea as in the rest of the world–and plain ignorance? Ignorance certainly isn’t an excuse for bad behavior, especially since there are several K-pop idols who were actually born and raised in North America and should be adept at understanding the racial implications of playing black, as it were. But ignorance is certainly something that has to realized and reckoned with.

Much of K-pop, from my viewpoint, is similar to watching a non-white boy discover rap for the first time. Everything about it is cool. It’s a culture that seems so cool, that the kid becomes obsessed with knowing every lyric (even the bad ones) and mimicking every cool movement. The kid doesn’t realize he’s parodying the culture he idolizes. The only time he does realize this is when he goofs in front of an actual black person in public. Whether he gets beat up over it or simply lectured to depends on the black person he goofs in front of, but regardless, the boy comes out the other side a different, and hopefully more aware, person.

BTS got a similar wake-up call during the first American Hustle Life episode, in which they found themselves in front of Coolio for the first time

As Méndez wrote:

Coolio gets right down to business, asking BTS some basic questions about the origins and history of hip-hop. Whether it’s because they’re nervous or clueless or both, the room goes quiet. But it’s not long before Coolio is interrupted by class clown V, who chimes in with a “turn up” that makes Coolio pauses his pop quiz to get the kid in line. He asks V if he even knows what “turn up” means, to which V replies, “Let’s go party?” Some of the other members chuckle, the others shake their heads in embarrassment. Coolio is not amused. He orders V to do 25 pushups, and the group’s eyes collectively widen. Shit just got real.

“Do you even know what that means?” is a fair question to ask of k-pop stars, or idols, who often talk the talk without really knowing what they’re talking about. This is not to say these stars aren’t genuine or talented artists, but the k-pop industry is about selling a package. Idol groups are formed by finding raw talent and the right look that can be preened, polished, and trained to deliver that package. When forming a hip-hop group, it’s not as important to know and respect hip-hop culture as it is to be able to sell it.

The group continued their education with rapper/producer Warren G, one of the pioneers of the West Coast hip hop scene and renowned vocal coach and music consultant Iris Stevenson, who served as the inspiration for Sister Mary Clarence in Sister Act 2.

Yes, if you watch the reality series, it starts out rough–the boys are “kidnapped” by the guys who will eventually become their L.A. brothers from other mothers–and a lot of the series is edited for laughs. But surprisingly, there are big chunks of the series that do show that the boys are taking their lessons seriously and actually come away with a deeper appreciation of the artform and for the people behind it. It’s especially apparent when the boys who took Stevenson’s singing lessons come away visibly changed–not just because of the new skills they’ve learned, but because of Stevenson’s patience, kindness, and maternal spirit. They respect her as a master of her craft. To them, Stevenson, or “Iris seonsaeng (teacher)” as they called her, is one of the newfound fans they hope to impress the most.

Warren G is another seonsaeng they hope to impress throughout their idol journey. Coolio acted like the hardnosed drill sergeant and quizzed them on deep hip hop history that they should know if they plan on being R&B/hip hop stars. Warren G, on the other hand, calmly taught some of the more nuanced aspects of the racism and negative stereotypes that hip hop is wrongly defined by. He also taught them the true meaning of hip hop.

As RM told HipHopPlaya in 2015:

I wanted to ask Warren G a lot about hip-hop. Like Warren G stated, things like ‘shooting guns, doing drugs, robbery’ aren’t things that are hip-hop itself, but a negative side that’s included within hip-hop. It’s like an uninvited guest that shoved its way into hip-hop, but people said that that’s hip-hop. He also told me that hip-hop is something that’s open to everyone despite what race you may be or what language you may speak. I heard a lot of great things from him besides those as well. Although it may seem like a very obvious thing, but the weight of it just felt different when Warren G said it. And after everything he would say, Warren G attached “It’s all Good.” When I heard those words from the side, then my mood felt really good. Should I compare it to the feeling of a grandfather telling good stories next to you (laughter).

RM espoused on more of Warren G’s teachings in another interview, to the point where he actually taught the interviewer a thing or two about hip-hop:

Interviewer: You recently released a collaboration song with Warren G… But I had the thought that thoe who are more interested in Rapmon than in Bangtan would really enjoy that song. How was it like working with Warren G?

RM: There are two things that Warren G told me that I will never be able to forget. The first is, hip-hop is open to any one. Despite what your race is or where you’re from, hip-hop is a type of music that is always ready to give you space for anyone who enjoys hip-hop. So, don’t restrain yourself behind any type of prejudiced thought, and the other one was you’re doing well, so no matter what others say, believe in yourself and do what you want. Although it’s something that anyone says, I think it touched me even more because he was the one to say it to me. He has a habit of saying, “It’s so good.” But I think that it became a sort of spell. Someting like Hakuna Matata. ‘It’s so good’, when I think of that phrase lately, my hearts becomes at rest a bit more.

Interviewer: Although hip-hop is a genre of music, it seems like a type of religion and philosophy. Just what is hip-hop? Just what is it that guys seem to go crazy over it?

RM: Defining hip-hop is the same as trying to define love. If there are 6 billion people in the world, then there are 6 billion definitions of love, and like that, each definition of hip-hop is different for each person. Of course, it’s possible to give a dictionary definition. In 1970, there was a person called DJ Herc in South Bronx. At a party that he was hosting, he set breaks on a beat and during that break, someone would be rapping, someone would be dancing, and someone else would be doing graffiti… That’s how hip-hop was born, and they call that the 4 elements of hip-hop, but dictionary definitions like these is something anyone knows, but to explain that spirit… In one word, it’s something that can’t be explained. It’s a way that expresses me as well as being a meaning for freedom and rebelling. Because it’s something where people play and have fun with, it can have messages of peace and love placed in it. If you compare it to a Pokemon, it’s like a Ditto. Personally, hip-hop to me is the world. The world that I’m living in… It’s difficult, right? To be honest, it’s still hard for me too.

Interviewer: Maybe it’s because I don’t know much about hip-hop, but there are many aspects of hip-hop culture or clothing that I’m unable to understand easily. The hanging gold necklaces, gun fires, images like that… I also don’t really understand the term ‘swag’ that is used often.

RM: The culture of shooting guns and doing drugs is not the actual self of hip-hop. It’s just become a by-product that appeared around hip-hop music, it’s not the actual self of hip-hop. Although there’s a certain image that pops up clearly when you think of hip-hop fashion, that’s also becoming something that’s more broad. Look at A$AP Rocky or Kanye West. They don’t wear pants that drag around any more. To understand ‘swag’, you need to understand what kind of meaning ‘making it on your own’ has in hip-hop. Making it on your own is a very cool and important concept in hip-hop. I’ll use Jay-Z as an example. Jay-Z was a drug dealer. He’s someone that sold drugs on the rooftop of a very large stadium called Barclays Center, but he succeeded and bought that building. After buying that building, he dressed up in hip-hop and then went up to the rooftop and looked down at that building. Then they took a picture of that and posted it. After seeing that, everyone died. Kya… Just how cool is that? Jay-Z had a song a long time ago that was called ‘99 Problems’, but he raps “I’m someone with a lot of problems, but I don’t have any problems with women? [actual lyrics]”, yet he ended up marrying Beyonce later. Isn’t that amazing? Starting off as a drug dealer, becoming the best wealthy person, and marrying the most amazing woman in the world. I think that gives dreams and hopes to men. Showing that off and revealing it to the world is called ‘swag’. Even when they show it off very openly, you can’t hate or dislike it. Because they started from the bottom and made it on their own.

Screencap of RM in his “Do You” music video.

Whether RM was interested in black music and black messages outside of rap is something I don’t know. But it’s definitely apparent that everything shifted for RM in particular after his time in LA with rap greats and, to be blunt, actual black people (the group would regularly be immersed with average black denizens of LA, whether it was while touring Warren G’s neighborhood, chilling with their LA mentors/big brother figures, or befriending a random guy on the bus).

For instance, when RM put out his mixtape, a series of songs that reflected his own inner turmoil, loneliness, and stress from rival rappers doubting his credibility, he cited India Arie’s “Just Do You” as a source of inspiration.

“It’s a song that gave a lot of comfort to me when I felt confused,” he said to HipHopPlaya. “I believe that the message of this song gave a lot of influence towards this mixtape. That’s why the song that represents the entire message for this mixtape is ‘Do You’.”

India Arie is a deep cut even by American standards–even though she was once mainstream with her 2006 hit, “I Am Not My Hair,” her positioning has since become more indie and low-key–but she’s an especially deep cut by Korean standards, especially in K-pop, which only uses people from the Top 40 charts, like Beyonce and Rihanna, for reference.

It also seems that the RM of now is definitely not the “black is a talent”-spouting RM of the past. At some point between then and his time in LA, RM put out a video apologizing for his past mistakes, regretting that some of his words might have caused his fans pain. He said he had to come to terms with the fact that his words might have been hurtful, and seemed resigned to having to accept that he can’t change the past; all he can do is go forward. Most importantly, he said he holds himself responsible for what he’s done.

Finally, it seems a K-pop group is understanding the sensitivity they need to take when diving into the world of black culture.

Along with learning cultural sensitivity, it would also behoove K-pop as a whole to know about issues facing black people today. What with Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling, #BlackLivesMatter, and police getting off scot-free after killing black men and women, there’s a lot that K-pop can (and should) comment on. To be real about it, the stars of the K-pop machine, out of any Asian group aiming to make it big in the States, should be at the forefront of supporting black lives–the lives of their fans–regardless if they’re traveling in America or if they’re on a game show back home in Korea. If a group plans on indoctrinating themselves in a culture like blackness, it doesn’t do well to just focus on the marketable aspects.

What many stars and management execs don’t realize is that to adopt blackness in any form is also to adopt the issues that affect black people. Black people didn’t gain their unique swag just by happenstance; the ways we express ourselves come from centuries of finding alternative ways of keeping our dignity through unspeakable horrors, of figuring out how to express ourselves in sly, inventive ways. Our culture comes from the little we were able to retain from crossing the Middle Passage. Blackness is, in a nutshell, achieving greatness amid struggle and constantly finding ways to achieve success in a society that hates you. Through pressure and stress, unexpected diamonds were created. But our diamonds–our culture–are things we are not willing to have mined without reciprocation. To get in the vicinity of these diamonds, you have to earn it.

Interestingly enough, BTS seems aware of even this fact. The group is dedicated to having the socially-conscious aspect of their brand down. They makes sure most, if not all of their songs, deal with things socially relevant to their audience.

“Our song lyrics are not 100 percent based on our personal experiences. However, a lot of the lyrics have been influenced by our experiences,” said Suga to Soompi’s E.Cha. “…We’ve tried hard to tell the stories of our generation and our age group in present-day society.”

Much of that deals with topics that aren’t normally expressed in K-pop. As Billboard‘s Tamar Herman wrote when describing RM’s single with Wale, “Change”:

“Though most K-pop acts shy away from politicizing their music, or even touching on seemingly controversial topics, the Rap Monster-led K-pop act has addressed politics and cultural issues in their songs on multiple occasions, with a particular focus on youth-related issues such as mental health, bullying and suicide. The atypical approach has made BTS fan favorites in the U.S., leading to them becoming the highest-ranked K-pop act ever on the Billboard 200.”

Speaking of that track with Wale, “Change,” which was released this March, not only features RM’s commentary on Twitter bullying, but it also features Wale commenting on the state of black America, such as the amount of police shootings and injustices there have been against black people. As Herman wrote, “With the duo currently criticizing the ‘alt-right,’ Twitter’s ability to ‘kill,’ ‘racist police’ and declaring ‘no faith in the government,’ the unrestrained hip-hop track is one of the most progressive songs yet from the socially aware boy band BTS.”

Screencap of Wale and RM in their “Change” music video.

According to what RM told Teen Vogue’s Taylor Glasby, the collaboration was Wale’s idea, which shows the power of BTS’ relevance.

“When he suggested the collaboration, that was a real shock,” he said. ” thought about it, [and was] like, should we do a party song? But I wanted to something different. The title is ‘Change’–in America. They’ve got their situations and we’ve got ours in Seoul, the problems are everywhere and the song is like a prayer for change. He talks about the police, and problems he’s faced since he was a child. I talked about Korea, my problems, and about those on Twitter who kill people by keyboards.”

The group also has a good cause attached to their name. The band has partnered with UNICEF to create the LOVE MYSELF campaign, which will “be used to protect and support child and teen victims of domestic ad school violence as well as sexual assault around the world.” The two-year campaign will also “provide an education to local communities for violence prevention.” Another arm of the initiative is #ENDviolence, a joint global campaign between BTS, [BTS management] Big Hit Entertainment and the Korean Committe for UNICEF, which is “primarily aimed at protecting children and teens from violence and encouraging preventive measures.”

Overall, the partnership with UNICEF has cemented BTS as a standout group among other K-pop groups thanks to their philanthropy.

“The members expressed their willingness to become the first artists in Korea to raise funds as part of a social fund for global campaigns and to donate a portion of their income from album sales and 100% of all profits from the sale of goods to numerous social programs–inclusive of violence prevention against children and teens as well as support programs for the victims of violence,” states the website.

Setting the precedent

BTS performing at the AMAs. (ABC/Image Group LA)

It would seem that BTS is on the right track towards learning from K-pop’s past mistakes and heading into the international realm on clean, even footing. I’d certainly love to know more about their education process when it comes to getting immersed in the finer points of black cultural history, since, despite the show’s goofiness, it seemed the band really took their LA bootcamp experience to heart. At the very least, a leader like RM can keep the group on the straight-and-narrow path as they break down more glass ceilings in America.

But BTS could also set a precedent for other K-pop groups, if everything goes right and if BTS is heavily committed to earning their stripes with black audiences. The group has the potential to be that special group that teaches their fellow K-pop idols a thing or two about what true respect for hip hop looks like.

Just take what one of the black LA mentors they became the closest to during their hip hop bootcamp, artist and musician Tony Jones, said to Soompi in 2014.

I thought every other group and artist in Korea that did K-Pop was like that and that talented. I was wrong. Not to talk about any other group, but they’re just different. BTS has so much to offer. They really studied hip hop culture. I want to meet the person behind them because the producers and the directors are finding the beats, and everything they’re doing is really American. I also really think that they can come over to the U.S. and do music if they can learn English in the future. They’re that good. They’re that talented. Afterwards, people were like “Look up BAP, look up EXO, or G-Dragon,” and all these groups. I checked them all out, and it wasn’t the same for me, you know. They’re talented as well, but it wasn’t the same reaction that I got.

…They took from New Edition, from Boys to Men, they also took from A$AP Rocky. They just took everything and put it together. I don’t know if that was the plan or the boys were that talented but it’s lucky they came together. It’s brilliant. I really think that K-Pop will blow up more and it won’t be a local thing anymore. It’s going to grow because of BTS.

…Those boys and the staff really studied American culture and they do it very well. I’ve seen people from different countries try to mimic it and try to replicate it and try to rap the same, sing the same, and act the same, but it’s not happening. Those boys really studied and really got good at it. They’re all talented from top to bottom. There’s not a weak link in the group. So it’s very interesting. They’re really good.

Warren G is right–anyone can rap. But not everyone has the dedication to the craft or the willingness to learn about black history and culture. This could also be what separates BTS from its more formulaic K-pop cousins and propels them into the stratosphere. If that’s the case, hopefully the other groups will get the hint.

What BTS’ success in the States depends on, ultimately, is how black America views their journey to the people they are now. Initially, I was immediately charmed by how professional and committed BTS conducted themselves during their AMA press week leading up to the AMAs performance. After diving into the world of K-pop, I won’t lie and say that I haven’t come away with some emotional calluses. The world of K-pop can be a Matryoshka doll of racism, colorism, fanaticism, fetishism and exoticism, surrounded by a core of complete and (sometimes genuine) ignorance. To dig through those levels as a black American can be tiring. To try to put it in perspective–to put yourself in someone else’s cultural shoes–can be even more tiring. Throughout this post, I’ve battled with myself as to if I was giving BTS too much wiggle room or not enough. I did what every black person interested in BTS is going to have to do–judge the group based on where they started to where they are now. From where I’m sitting, the group has had its hard knocks, but they’ve learned and taken responsibility, and taking responsibility for your worst mistakes has to count for something.

Where they started was rough, speaking honestly. But the potential for BTS comes out of how they’ve grown from their initially problematic start. It appears they’re working on making peace with their past transgressions and, thanks to their mentors, have truly understood what it means to make great hip hop. As RM said, even if there is a dictionary definition for hip hop, the true spirit of hip hop can’t be explained. Hip hop isn’t about affectation and it isn’t about pretense. It’s about being real and being true to who you are.

Is BTS’ education on black America done? On the contrary: it’s far from over. In fact, it’ll never be over for the group, who are bound to make a new set of mistakes the more they fight for U.S. dominance. They will always have to learn more about their black audience and unlearn anything else they need to unlearn as they gain American popularity. But being true is probably the biggest lesson BTS has taken away from their experience, and it shows in a new, broader-reaching, and more culturally responsible sound and outlook. If being true to themselves is something BTS can learn, then the rest of K-pop can learn, too. ♦

FURTHER READING: Hip Hop and its Complications in BTS’ ‘American Hustle Life’ | CriticalKpop

What it’s like to be gay and in a gang

Some gay gang members are open about their sexuality, but others remain in the closet, fearing they could endanger themselves or the status of their gang.
Devin/Pexels, FAL

Vanessa R. Panfil, Old Dominion University

There are many stereotypes of and assumptions about street gangs, just as there are many stereotypes and assumptions about gay men. Pretty much none of those stereotypes overlap.

In movies and television, some of the most recognizable gay characters have been portrayed as effeminate or weak; they’re “fashionistas” or “gay best friends.” Street gang members, on the other hand, are often depicted as hypermasculine, heterosexual and tough.

This obvious contradiction was one of the main reasons I was drawn to the subject of gay gang members.

For my new book “The Gang’s All Queer,” I interviewed and spent time with 48 gay or bisexual male gang members. All were between the ages of 18 and 28; the majority were men of color; and all lived in or near Columbus, Ohio, which has been referred to as a “Midwestern gay mecca.”

The experience, which took place over the course of more than two years, allowed me to explore the tensions they felt between gang life and gay manhood.

Some of the gang members were in gangs made up of primarily gay, lesbian or bisexual people. Others were the only gay man (or one of a few) in an otherwise “straight” gang. Then there were what I call “hybrid” gangs, which featured a mix of straight, gay, lesbian and bisexual members, but with straight people still in the majority. Most of these gangs were primarily male.

Because even the idea of a gay man being in a gang flies in the face of conventional thought, the gang members I spoke with had to constantly resist or subvert a range of stereotypes and expectations.

Getting in by being out

Male spaces can be difficult for women to enter, whether it’s boardrooms, legislative bodies or locker rooms.

How could I – a white, middle-class woman with no prior gang involvement – gain access to these gangs in the first place?

It helped that the initial group of men whom I spoke to knew me from years earlier, when we became friends at a drop-in center for LGBTQ youth. They vouched for me to their friends. I was openly gay – part of the “family,” as some of them put it – and because I was a student conducting research for a book, they were confident that I stood a better chance of accurately representing them than any “straight novelist” or journalist.

But I also suspect that my own masculine presentation allowed them to feel more at ease; I speak directly, have very short hair and usually leave the house in plaid, slacks and Adidas shoes.

While my race and gender did make for some awkward interactions (some folks we encountered assumed I was a police officer or a business owner), with time I gained their trust, started getting introduced to more members and began to learn about how each type of gang presented its own set of challenges.

Pressure to act the part

The gay men in straight gangs I spoke with knew precisely what was expected of them: be willing to fight with rival gangs, demonstrate toughness, date or have sex with women and be financially independent.

Being effeminate was a nonstarter; they were all careful to present a uniformly masculine persona, lest they lose status and respect. Likewise, coming out was a huge risk. Being openly gay could threaten their status as well as their safety. Only a handful of them came out to their traditional gangs, and this sometimes resulted in serious consequences, such as being “bled out” of the gang (forced out through a fight).

Despite the dangers, some wanted to come out. But a number of fears held them back. Would their fellow gang members start to distrust them? What if the other members got preoccupied about being sexually approached? Would the status of the gang be compromised, with other gangs seeing them as “soft” for having openly gay guys in it?

So most stayed in the closet, continuing to project heterosexuality, while discreetly meeting other gay men in underground gay scenes or over the internet.

As one man told me, he was glad cellphones had been invented because he could keep his private sexual life with men just that: private.

One particularly striking story came from a member of a straight gang who made a date for sex over the internet, only to discover that it was two fellow gang members who had arranged the date with him. He hadn’t known the others were gay, and they didn’t know about him, either.

Becoming ‘known’

In “hybrid” gangs (those with a sizable minority of gay, lesbian or bisexual people) or all-gay gangs, the men I interviewed were held to many of the same standards. But they had more flexibility.

In the hybrid gangs, members felt far more comfortable coming out than those in purely straight gangs. In their words, they were able to be “the real me.”

Men in gay gangs were expected to be able to build a public reputation as a gay man – what they called becoming “known.” Being “known” means you’re able to achieve many masculine ideals – making money, being taken seriously, gaining status, looking good – but as an openly gay man.

It was also more acceptable for them to project femininity, whether it was making flamboyant gestures, using effeminate mannerisms, or wearing certain styles of clothing, like skinny jeans.

They were still in a gang. This meant they needed to clash with rival gay crews, so they valued toughness and fighting prowess.

Men in gay gangs especially expressed genuine and heartfelt connections to their fellow gang members. They didn’t just think of them as associates. These were their friends, their chosen families – their pillars of emotional support.

Confronting contradictions

But sometimes these gang members would vacillate about certain expectations.

They questioned if being tough or eager to fight constituted what it should mean to be a man. Although they viewed these norms with a critical eye, across the board they tended to prefer having “masculine” men as sexual partners or friends. Some would also patrol each other’s masculinity, insulting other gay men who were flamboyant or feminine.

Caught between not wanting themselves or others to be pressured to act masculine all the time, but also not wanting to be read as visibly gay or weak (which could invite challenges), resistance to being seen as a “punk” or a pushover was critical.

It all seemed to come from a desire to upend damaging cultural stereotypes of gay men as weak, of black men as “deadbeats” and offenders, and of gang members as violent thugs.

But this created its own tricky terrain. In order to not be financial deadbeats, they resorted to sometimes selling drugs or sex; in order to not be seen as weak, they sometimes fought back, perhaps getting hurt in the process. Their social worlds and definitions of acceptable identity were constantly changing and being challenged.

Fighting back

One of the most compelling findings of my study was what happened when these gay gang members were derisively called “fag” or “faggot” by straight men in bars, on buses, in schools or on the streets. Many responded with their fists.

Some fought back even if they weren’t openly gay. Sure, the slur was explicitly meant to attack their masculinity and sexuality in ways they didn’t appreciate. But it was important to them to be able to construct an identity as a man who wasn’t going to be messed with – a man who also happened to be gay.

Their responses were revealing: “I will fight you like I’m straight”; “I’m gonna show you what this faggot can do.” They were also willing to defend others derided as “fags” in public, even though this could signal that they were gay themselves.

These comebacks challenge many of the assumptions made about gay men – that they lack nerve, that they’re unwilling to physically fight.

The ConversationIt also communicated a belief that was clearly nonnegotiable: a fundamental right to not be bothered simply for being gay.

Vanessa R. Panfil, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Old Dominion University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Danielle Brooks’ capsule collection for Universal Standard hits the minimalist sweet spot

High-impact, minimalist fashion is one area that plus size fashion hasn’t gotten right yet. So often, the focus is on accentuating hips and boobs, when some people just like utilizing clean lines and color (or the lack of) to create a fashion statement. Enter Universal Standard, Danielle Brooks and their collaborative Tria collection.

Universal Standard is probably the only inclusive fashion brand that’s addressing the lack of minimalist style for plus sizes, style that is usually geared towards smaller ladies. Brooks loved this about the company, and decided to go with them for her first capsule collection.

“The reason I chose Universal Standard to be the first company that I design for is because they symbolize the fact that all women, no matter their shape or size, want and deserve to wear beautifully made, fashion forward clothing. They stand for everything I believe in,” she said to PeopleStyle.

For the collection, Brooks, designed three pieces with a particular brief in mind: “If you could design three pieces that you always wished you had in your closet, but could never find, what would they be?”

Brooks decided on an upscale pair of overalls, a shirt dress, and an oversize cowl sweater.

Universal Standard/Instagram
The Brooks Overalls | $120

“The overalls were a no brainer. For years I have looked for a pair of overalls that weren’t too baggy in the crotch, that presented some type of wow factor and that weren’t too long in the body. This one will be sure to satisfy every woman who has felt like me,” she said.

Universal Standard/Instagram
The Danielle Shirt Dress | $110

“The shirt was inspired by one of my fashion icons, Solange Knowles,” she said. “Too often, I’m not able to wear the cool unique statement pieces that I see because they never run in my size. This piece will have people asking you, ‘excuse me, where did you get that?!”

Universal Standard/Instagram
The Dani Sweater Dress | $190

“With this [sweater], you are able to dress it up, dress it down, wear it off the shoulder, and even rock it as a chic hoodie. It’s what every woman will be looking to wear for fall,” she said. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which piece would you love to own? Talk about it in the comments!

Loved this article? Follow JUST ADD COLOR at @COLORwebmag and on Facebook!

Pirelli dips “Alice in Wonderland” in melanin for its 2018 calendar

Pirelli has outdone themselves this year with their exclusive Pirelli calendar. The pity is that none of us plebians can get a copy.

This year, the innovative automotive and cycling tire company used Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as its inspiration and, in a stroke of genius, the company decided to use an all-black cast.

The cast, ranging from entertainment and fashion figures to social activists, were styled by Edward Enninful (now serving as British Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief) and shot by English photographer Tim Walker.

The cast includes (according to the press release):

Adut Akech as The Queen of Diamonds; Adwoa Aboah as Tweedledee; Alpha Dia as Five-Of-Hearts-Playing-Card Gardener; Djimon Hounsou as The King of Hearts; Duckie Thot as Alice; Jaha Dukureh as Wonderland Princess; King Owusu as Two-Of-Hearts-Playing-Card Gardener; Lil Yachty as The Queen’s Guard; Lupita Nyong’o as The Dormouse; Naomi Campbell as The Royal Beheader; RuPaul as The Queen of Hearts; Sasha Lane as The Mad March Hare; Sean “Diddy” Combs as The Royal Beheader; Slick Woods as The Madhatter; Thando Hopa as The Princess of Hearts; Whoopi Goldberg as The Royal Duchess; Wilson Oryema as Seven-Of-Hearts-Playing-Card Gardener; Zoe Bedeaux as The Caterpillar.

When I saw these photos, I certainly saw shades of traditional fashion styling, but I also saw veiled, if unintentional, callbacks to late ’90 music video filming techniques, such as the slight fish eye lens, Hype Williams-esque quality some of the images have, the boldness of the costumes chosen, and the sheer attitude that jumps from the images. Here’s some images from the calendar, posted to Pirelli’s Instagram page (click picture to see image on Instagram):

Couldn’t Pirelli lift their “not for sale” rule on their calendars just this once? I know tons of us would love to own this one. Go to pirellicalendar.pirelli.com to learn more.

What do you think about these pictures? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Loved this article? Follow JUST ADD COLOR at @COLORwebmag and on Facebook!

How doctors’ bias leads to unfair and unsound medical triage

Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash

Philip Rosoff

When someone is sick or needs the help of a physician, who should decide what is appropriate – what blood tests and imaging studies to order, what medicines to prescribe, what surgeries to perform? Should it be the doctor, the patient or some combination of the two? Most people nowadays (even most physicians) support what is called ‘shared decision-making’, in which the doctor and patient (and often her family or friends) discuss the situation and come up with a joint plan. The doctor’s role is that of experienced guide, whose medical knowledge, skill and expertise help to shape the conversation and whose understanding of the priorities, values and goals of the patients steers the plan in a given direction to the satisfaction of all.

Unfortunately, in the real world, things don’t always work this way. Doctors and patients have a number of masters, both welcomed and uninvited. Insurance companies or other third-party payers often intrude into the decision-making process, limiting the choices of what services and products might be available: a sick patient often must wait for pre-authorisation for expensive diagnostic tests and procedures; pharmacy formularies restrict the kinds of drugs available for prescriptions, and so on. Furthermore, some doctors have personal interests in the interventions they recommend. Many surgeons make more money if they do more surgery, cardiologists earn more if they put in more cardiac stents and pacemakers, and drug companies have better profits if they sell drugs for chronic conditions that never get better and require lifelong medication (such as high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes). Such practices contribute to the seeming inexorable rise in healthcare costs (and a host of adverse outcomes) in the United States.

Yet controlling cost without sacrificing quality has been a daunting task. One strategy might be to pay more attention to what patients need, and less to what they want, assuming that the two don’t overlap. Another is limiting the excess of doctors who prescribe because of conflicts of interest or acts of ‘defensive medicine’ – in other words, to protect themselves from lawsuits, not aid the patient.

How does one go about rationing care? Will faceless bureaucrats be denying granny her medication or access to an intensive-care unit solely because she’s old, or saying that Billy can’t get his conditions treated because he is disabled? Indeed, dread of rationing – as well as a healthy dose of old-fashioned fear-mongering by crafty politicians – is what inspired the meme of ‘death panels’, an unfounded canard based upon a misinterpretation of a proposed federal rule for Medicare. Nevertheless, the concept of rationing is still of concern because it implies restriction of a resource that could be beneficial.

Therefore, rationing doesn’t apply to interventions that can’t help anyone at any time – for instance, antibacterial antibiotics that won’t work because the patient has a viral infection. A better example of true rationing is the allocation of organs – such as livers, hearts and lungs – for transplantation. Organ transplantation requires rationing because the supply never keeps up with demand. We also ration drugs that can suddenly become scarce (a distressingly common problem).

But there are other forms of rationing that are problematic, too. The most common one, intrinsic to the US healthcare system, involves limiting the kind and amount of healthcare one can obtain based on one’s financial situation. Poorer people get less and worse healthcare than wealthy people. While the most offensive aspects of this arrangement have been mitigated to some extent in those states that expanded Medicaid under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act, there are still alarming numbers of Americans who have limited access to effective medical care. This is one of the chief reasons why the US population as a whole doesn’t get as much bang per buck as citizens of many other nations, and this form of rationing is blatantly unfair.

But there is another form of rationing that is more insidious still. This is the so-called bedside rationing, in which doctors decide, on an individual per-patient basis, what should be available to them, regardless of the range of services that their insurance or finances might otherwise allow. The problem with this is that it is readily susceptible to prejudice and discrimination, both overt and hidden. It is well-known that doctors, like pretty much everyone else, harbour so-called implicit biases that are readily revealed on the implicit-association test (available online).

This does not mean that physicians express overt sexism, racism, or others forms of bigotry – but rather that these unconscious beliefs about others can influence the kinds of treatments that they offer. Thus, bedside rationing can violate one of the cardinal principles of fairness – that clinically similar situations be treated similarly. So doctors could offer one patient (say, a well-off white person) with unstable angina and blocked coronary arteries the standard of care with cardiac catheterisation and stents, while offering just medical therapy to an African-American patient with comparable disease. And there is ample evidence that such differential treatment occurs.

So how does one ‘choose wisely’ and escape the moral pitfalls of bedside rationing? It turns out that this is an extraordinarily difficult to do, especially in a system such as ours where physicians have such discretionary power about what diagnostic and treatment interventions should be on the ‘menu’ for each patient. This can readily lead to too much and too little offered to patients for reasons that cannot be easily justified.

I think that the solution, at least in the US, might require a wholesale re-engineering of our healthcare system to minimise the financial incentives to overprescribe, and to protect or immunise against the biases that lead to inappropriate rationing at the bedside. The only way to reduce the frequency of these behaviours is to have a single-payer system that controls (to a certain extent) the availability of certain interventions, analogous to the way in which the organ-transplant system regulates who gets transplanted and under what circumstances.

Of course, unlike livers and hearts, what needs to be rationed in the US is money and what it can buy. We could save money by efficiencies of scale and decreasing the waste and administrative costs that contribute at least 25 per cent of the total cost of what we now spend. Can we totally eliminate ‘bad’ rationing? No, of course not. But Americans should do all they can to avoid the moral tragedy of being the wealthiest nation on Earth that chooses dumbly, not wisely, about healthcare. Aeon counter – do not remove

Philip Rosoff is professor of paediatrics and director of the clinical ethics programme at Duke University Hospital in North Carolina. He is the author Drawing the Line: Healthcare Rationing and the Cutoff Problem (2017).

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Why America needs Marvel superhero Kamala Khan now more than ever

Katie M. Logan, Virginia Commonwealth University

During the first few weeks of the Trump administration, we’ve seen increased pressure on Muslim and immigrant communities in the United States.

In the face of these threats, which Marvel superhero might be best equipped to defend the people, ideals and institutions under attack? Some comic fans and critics are pointing to Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel.

Khan, the brainchild of comic writer G. Willow Wilson and editor Sana Amanat, is a revamp of the classic Ms. Marvel character (originally named Carol Danvers and created in 1968). First introduced in early 2014, Khan is a Muslim, Pakistani-American teenager who fights crime in Jersey City and occasionally teams up with the Avengers.

Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, fans have created images of Khan tearing up a photo of the president, punching him (evoking a famous 1941 cover of Captain America punching Hitler) and grieving in her room. But the new Ms. Marvel’s significance extends beyond symbolism.

In Kamala Khan, Wilson and Amanat have created a superhero whose patriotism and contributions to Jersey City emerge because of her Muslim heritage, not despite it. She challenges the assumptions many Americans have about Muslims and is a radical departure from how the media tend to depict Muslim-Americans. She shows how Muslim-Americans and immigrants are not forces that threaten communities – as some would argue – but are people who can strengthen and preserve them.

Superhero-in-training

After inhaling a mysterious gas, Kamala Khan discovers she can stretch, enlarge, shrink and otherwise manipulate her body. Like many superheroes, she chooses to keep her identity a secret. She selects the Ms. Marvel moniker in homage to the first Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers, who has since given up the name in favor of becoming Captain Marvel. Khan cites her family’s safety and her desire to lead a normal life, while also fearing that “the NSA will wiretap our mosque or something.”

As she wrestles with her newfound powers, her parents grow concerned about broken curfews and send her to the local imam for counseling. Rather than reinforcing her parents’ curfew or prying the truth from Khan, though, Sheikh Abdullah says, “I am asking you for something more difficult. If you insist on pursuing this thing you will not tell me about, do it with the qualities benefiting an upright young woman: courage, strength, honesty, compassion and self-respect.”

Her experience at the mosque becomes an important step on her journey to superheroism. Sheikh Abdullah contributes to her education, as does Wolverine. Islam is not a restrictive force in her story. Instead, the religion models for Khan many of the traits she needs in order to become an effective superhero. When her mother learns the truth about why her daughter is sneaking out, she “thank[s] God for having raised a righteous child.”

The comics paint an accurate portrait of Jersey City. Her brother Aamir is a committed Salafi (a conservative and sometimes controversial branch of Sunni Islam) and member of his university’s Muslim Student Association. Her best friend and occasional love interest, Bruno, works at a corner store and comes from Italian roots. The city’s diversity helps Kamala as she learns to be a more effective superhero. But it also rescues her from being a stand-in for all Muslim-American or Jersey City experiences.

Fighting a ‘war on terror culture’

Kamala’s brown skin and costume – self-fashioned from an old burkini – point to Marvel Comics’ desire to diversify its roster of superheroes (as well as writers and artists). As creator Sana Amanat explained on “Late Night With Seth Meyers” last month, representation is a powerful thing, especially in comics. It matters when readers who feel marginalized can see people like themselves performing heroic acts.

As one of 3.3 million Muslim-Americans, Khan flips the script on what Moustafa Bayoumi, author of “This Muslim American Life,” calls a “war on terror culture” that sees Muslim-Americans “not as complex human being[s] but only as purveyor[s] of possible future violence.”

Bayoumi’s book echoes other studies that detail the heightened suspicion and racial profiling Muslim-Americans have faced since 9/11, whether it’s in the workplace or interactions with the police. Each time there’s been a high-profile terrorist attack, these experiences, coupled with hate crimes and speech, intensify. Political rhetoric – like Donald Trump’s proposal to have a Muslim registry or his lie that thousands of Muslims cheered from Jersey City rooftops after the Twin Towers fell – only fans the flames.

Scholars of media psychology see this suspicion fostered, in part, by negative representations of Muslims in both news media outlets and popular culture, where they are depicted as bloodthirsty terrorists or slavish informants to a non-Muslim hero.

These stereotypes are so entrenched that a single positive Muslim character cannot counteract their effects. In fact, some point to the dangers of “balanced” representations, arguing that confronting stereotypes with wholly positive images only enforces a simplistic division between “good” and “bad” Muslims.

Unbreakable

Kamala Khan, however, signals an important development in cultural representations of Muslim-Americans. It’s not just because she is a powerful superhero instead of a terrorist. It’s because she is, at the same time, a clumsy teenager who makes a mountain of mistakes while trying to balance her abilities, school, friends and family. And it’s because Wilson surrounds Kamala with a diverse assortment of characters who demonstrate the array of heroic (and not-so-heroic) actions people can take.

For example, in one of Ms. Marvel’s most powerful narrative arcs, a planet attacks New York, leading to destruction eerily reminiscent of 9/11. Kamala works to protect Jersey City while realizing that her world has changed – and will change – irrevocably.

Carol Danvers appears to fill Kamala in on the gravity of the situation, telling her, “The fate of the world is out of your hands. It always was. But your fate – what you decide to do right now – is still up to you … Today is the day you stand up.” Kamala connects the talk with Sheikh Abdullah’s lectures about the value of one’s deeds, once again linking her superhero and religious training to rise to the occasion. In both cases, the lectures teach Kamala to take a stand to protect her community.

Arriving at the high school gym now serving as a safe haven for Jersey City residents, Kamala realizes her friends and classmates have been inspired by her heroism. They safely transport their neighbors to the gym while outfitting the space with water, food, dance parties and even a “non-denominational, non-judgmental prayer area.” The community response prompts Kamala to realize that “even if things are profoundly not okay, at least we’re not okay together. And even if we don’t always get along, we’re still connected by something you can’t break. Something there isn’t even a word for. Something … beautiful.”

The ConversationKamala Khan is precisely the hero America needs today, but not because of a bat sign in the sky or any single definitive image. She is, above all, committed to the idea that every member of her faith, her generation, and her city has value and that their lives should be respected and protected. She demonstrates that the most heroic action is to face even the most despair-inducing challenges of the world head on while standing up for – and empowering – every vulnerable neighbor, classmate or stranger. She shows us how diverse representation can transform into action and organization that connect whole communities “by something you can’t break.”

Katie M. Logan, Assistant Professor of Focused Inquiry, Virginia Commonwealth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Japan’s gender-bending history

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Genking, a male-born Japanese TV personality and ‘genderless’ pioneer.
_genking_/Instagram

Jennifer Robertson, University of Michigan

I’m an anthropologist who grew up in Japan and has lived there, off and on, for 22 years. Yet every visit to Tokyo’s Harajuku District still surprises me. In the eye-catching styles modeled by fashion-conscious young adults, there’s a kind of street theater, with crowded alleyways serving as catwalks for teenagers peacocking colorful, inventive outfits.

Boutiques are filled with cosmetics and beauty products intended for both males and females, and it’s often difficult to discern the gender of passersby. Since a gendered appearance (“feminine” or “masculine”) often (but not always) denotes the sex of a person, Japan’s recent “genderless” fashion styles might confuse some visitors – was that person who just walked by a woman or a man?

Although the gender-bending look appeals equally to young Japanese women and men, the media have tended to focus on the young men who wear makeup, color and coif their hair and model androgynous outfits. In interviews, these genderless males insist that they are neither trying to pass as women nor are they (necessarily) gay.

Some who document today’s genderless look in Japan tend to treat it as if it were a contemporary phenomenon. However, they conveniently ignore the long history in Japan of blurred sexualities and gender-bending practices.

Sex without sexuality

In premodern Japan, aristocrats often pursued male and female lovers; their sexual trysts were the stuff of classical literature. To them, the biological sex of their pursuits was often less important than the objective: transcendent beauty. And while many samurai and shoguns had a primary wife for the purposes of procreation and political alliances, they enjoyed numerous liaisons with younger male lovers.

Only after the formation of a modern army in the late-19th century were the sort of same-sex acts central to the samurai ethos discouraged. For a decade, from 1872 to 1882, sodomy among men was even criminalized. However, since then, there have been no laws in Japan banning homosexual relations.

It’s important to note that, until very recently, sexual acts in Japan were not linked to sexual identity. In other words, men who had sex with men and women who had sex with women did not consider themselves gay or lesbian. Sexual orientation was neither political nor politicized in Japan until recently, when a gay identity emerged in the context of HIV/AIDS activism in the 1990s. Today, there are annual gay pride parades in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka.

In Japan, same-sex relations among children and adolescents have long been thought of as a normal phase of development, even today. From a cultural standpoint, it’s frowned upon only when it interferes with marriage and preserving a family’s lineage. For this reason, many people will have same-sex relationships while they’re young, then get married and have kids. And some even later resume having same-sex relationships after fulfilling these social obligations.

Contentious cross-dressing

Like same-sex relationships, cross-dressing has a long history in Japan. The earliest written records date to the eighth century and include stories about women who dressed as warriors. In premodern Japan, there were also cases of women passing as men either to reject the prescribed confines of femininity or to find employment in trades dominated by men.

‘Modern girls’ (‘moga’) stroll along the Ginza, Japan’s Fifth Avenue, in 1928.
Wikimedia Commons

A century ago, “modern girls” (moga) were young women who sported short hair and trousers. They attracted media attention – mostly negative – although artists depicted them as fashion icons. Some hecklers called them “garçons” (garuson), an insult implying unfeminine and unattractive.

Gender, at that time, was thought of in zero-sum terms: If females were becoming more masculine, it meant that males were becoming feminized.

These concerns made their way into the theater. For example, the all-female Takarazuka Revue was an avant-garde theater founded in 1913 (and is still very popular today). Females play the parts of men, which, in the early 20th century, sparked heated debates (that continue today) about “masculinized” women on stage – and how this might influence women off the stage.

However, today’s genderless males aren’t simply weekend cross-dressers. Instead, they want to shatter the existing norms that say men must dress and present themselves a certain way.

They ask: Why should only girls and women be able to wear skirts and dresses? Why should only women be able to wear lipstick and eye shadow? If women can wear pants, why shouldn’t men be able to wear skirts?

Actually, the adjective “genderless” is misleading, since these young men aren’t genderless at all; rather, they’re claiming both femininity and masculinity as styles they wear in their daily lives.

In this regard, these so-called genderless men have historical counterparts: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cosmopolitan “high collar” men (haikara) wore facial powder and carried scented handkerchiefs, paying meticulous attention to their Westernized appearances. One critic – invoking the zero-sum gender attitudes of the era – complained that “some men toil over their makeup more than women.” Conservative pundits derided the haikara as “effeminate” by virtue of their “un-Japanese” style.

On the other end of the masculinity spectrum were the nationalistic “primitive” men (bankara) who wore wooden clogs (geta) to complement their military-style school uniforms. Ironically, like their samurai predecessors – and unlike the foppish haikara – the macho bankara would engage in same-sex acts.

Japan’s ‘beautiful youths’

Probably the biggest contemporary inspiration for today’s genderless males are a spate of popular androgynous boy bands. Cultivated and promoted by Johnny & Associates Entertainment Company, Japan’s largest male talent agency, they include boy bands like SMAP, Johnny’s West and Sexy Zone.

Johnny’s West performs their song ‘Summer Dreamer.’

There’s a term for the type of teenage boy that Johnny & Associates cultivates: “beautiful youths” (bishōnen), which was coined a century ago to describe a young man whose ambiguous gender and sexual orientation appealed to females and males of all ages.

Similarly, Visual Kei is a 1980s glam-rock and punk music genre that features bishōnen performers who don flamboyant, gender-bending costumes and hairdos. In its new, 21st-century incarnation as Neo-Visual Kei, the emphasis on androgyny is even more pronounced, as epitomized by the prolific career of the androgynous Neo-Visual Kei pop star Gackt, who enjoys an international fan following.

The ConversationSince the word “genderless” is misleading, a better term might be “gender-more,” in the sense that young men – especially in Tokyo – are insisting on the right to present and express themselves in ways that contradict and exceed traditional masculinity. In the long span of Japanese cultural history, there have been many things that were – and are – new under the sun. But genderless males aren’t among them.

Jennifer Robertson, Professor of Anthropology and Art History, University of Michigan

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How media sexism demeans women and fuels abuse by men like Weinstein

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Advertising continues to portray women as charming keepers of the home, making it harder to succeed at work.
Andrea44/flickr, CC BY-SA

Virginia García Beaudoux, University of Buenos Aires

The sexual abuse scandal currently embroiling media mogul Harvey Weinstein has stunned the United States, with Hollywood and the fashion industry declaring that “this way of treating women ends now.”

As an Argentinean woman who studies gender in the media, I find it hard to be surprised by Weinstein’s misdeeds. Machismo remains deeply ingrained in Latin American society, yes, but even female political leaders in supposedly gender-equal paradises like Holland and Sweden have told me that they are criticized more in the press and held to a higher standard than their male counterparts.

How could they not be? Across the world, the film and TV industry – Weinstein’s domain – continues to foist outdated gender roles upon viewers.

Women’s work

Television commercials are particularly guilty, frequently casting women in subservient domestic roles.

Take this 2015 ad for the Argentine cleaning product Cif, which is still running today. It explains how its concentrated cleaning capsules “made Sleeping Beauty shine.”

The prince could help clean up, but why bother when women can do it all?

In it, a princess eager to receive her prince remembers that – gasp – the floors in her castle tower are a total mess. Thanks to Cif’s magic scouring fluid, she has time not only to clean but also to get dolled up for the prince – who, in case you were wondering, has no physical challenges preventing him from helping her tidy up.

But why should he, when it’s a woman’s job to be both housekeeper and pretty princess?

Somewhat paradoxically, advertisements may also cast men as domestic superheroes. Often, characters like Mr. Muscle will mansplain to women about the best product and how to use it – though they don’t actually do any cleaning themselves.

Mansplaining domestic chores.

More recently, there’s been a shift – perhaps an awkward attempt at political correctness – in which women are still the masters of the home, but their partners are shown “helping out” with the chores. In exchange, the men earn sex object status.

Thanks for ‘helping out,’ hubby.

We’ve come a little way, baby

Various studies on gender stereotypes in commercials indicate that although the advertising industry is slowly changing for the better, marketing continues to target specific products to certain customers based on traditional gender roles.

Women are pitched hygiene and cleaning products, whereas men get ads for banks, credit cards, housing, cars and other significant financial investments.

This year, U.N. Women teamed up with Unilever and other industry leaders like Facebook, Google, Mars and Microsoft to launch the Unstereotype Alliance. The aim of this global campaign is to end stereotypical and sexist portrayals of gender in advertising.

As part of the #Unstereotype campaign, Unilever also undertook research on gender in advertising. It found that only 3 percent of advertising shows women as leaders and just 2 percent conveys them as intelligent. In ads, women come off as interesting people just 1 percent of the time.

Britain paves a path

Even before it was forced to reckon with allegations that Harvey Weinstein had also harassed women in London, the United Kingdom was making political progress on the issue of women’s portrayal in the media.

In July, the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority announced that the U.K. will soon prohibit commercials that promote gender stereotypes.

“While advertising is only one of many factors that contribute to unequal gender outcomes,” its press release stated, “tougher advertising standards can play an important role in tackling inequalities and improving outcomes for individuals, the economy and society as a whole.”

As of 2018, the agency says, advertisements in which women are shown as solely responsible for household cleaning or men appear useless around kitchen appliances and unable to handle taking care of their children and dependents will not pass muster in the U.K. Commercials that differentiate between girls’ and boys’ toys based on gender stereotypes will be banned as well.

Sticky floors

The U.K.‘s move is a heartening public recognition that gender stereotypes in the media both reflect and further the very real inequalities women face at home and at work.

Worldwide, the International Labor Organization reports, women still bear the burden of household chores and caretaking responsibilities, which often either excludes them from pay work or leaves them relegated to ill-paid part-time jobs.

In the U.K., men spend on average 16 hours per week on domestic tasks, while women spend 26. The European Union average is worse, with women dedicating an average of 26 weekly hours to men’s nine hours on caretaking and household tasks.

In Argentina, my home country, fully 40 percent of men report doing no household work at all, even if they’re unemployed. Among those who do pitch in, it’s 24 hours a week on caretaking and domestic chores for men. Argentinean women put in 45 hours.

You can do the math: On average, Argentinean women use up two days of their week and some 100 days annually – nearly one-third of their year – on unpaid household labor.

Real-world consequences

These inequalities, combined with advertising that reinforces them, generate what’s called the “sticky floors” problem. Women – whether would-be investment bankers or, I dare say, aspiring Hollywood stars – don’t just face glass ceilings to advancement, they also are also “stuck” to domestic life by endless chores.

The cultural powers that be produce content that represents private spaces as “naturally” imbued with female qualities, gluing women to traditional caregiving roles.

This hampers their professional development and helps keep them at the bottom of the economy pyramid because women must pull off a balancing act between their jobs inside and outside of the domestic sphere. And they must excel at both, all while competing against male colleagues who likely confront no such challenges.

Former U.S. president Barack Obama once pointed out this double standard in homage to his then-competitor Hillary Clinton. She, he reminded an audience in 2008, “was doing everything I was doing, but just like Ginger Rogers, it was backwards in heels.”

The ConversationThe sticky floor problem puts women in a position to be exploited by men like Weinstein, who tout their ability to help female aspirants to get unstuck. Until society – and, with it, the media we create – comprehend that neither professional success nor domesticity has a gender, these pernicious powerful dynamics will endure.

Virginia García Beaudoux, Professor of Political Communication and Public Opinion, University of Buenos Aires

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Meet the 5 trans women headlining Ryan Murphy’s “Pose”

I can’t wait to see Ryan Murphy’s Pose! The new show is breaking ground for trans actors by employing the largest cast of trans actors ever on a scripted show.

Pose is set in the mid-1980s in New York City. According to Variety, the series examines “the juxtaposition of several segments of life and society in Manhattan: the emergence of tthe luxury Trummp-era universe, the ball culture world, and downtown social and literary scene.”

Along with Murphy, Pose is co-executive produced by trans activist and director Silas Howard, and will have scripts written by Janet Mock and Our Lady J. The show will also with with Murphy’s Half initiative, which will mentor trans directors.

MJ Rodriguez

(Photo credit: Dennis Cahlo)

Rodriguez is probably best known to Marvel fans for her non-speaking role as Sister Boy in Luke Cage. She has also appeared in The Carrie Diaries and Nurse Jackie. One of Rodriguez’s latest roles is as Ebony in the film Saturday Church, which focuses on a young teen boy who escapes to fantasy to deal with his struggles with religion and gender identity. The church opened at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Indya Moore

Indya Moore at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival portrait studio. (Oak NY)

Moore also stars in Saturday Church as Dijon. Before film, Moore made her name as a model and recently walked in New York Fashion Week. (You can read more about her in an interview she gave with NBC Out.)

Dominique Jackson

(Photo credit: Oxygen)

Jackson has been modeling for over 20 years and has appeared in fashion magazines such as Vogue España. Jackson has published her autobiography, The Transsexual from Tobago, and is also an LGBT and human rights activist.

Hailie Sahar

Hailie Sahar as Lulu. (Photo credit: FX)

Sahar is best known as Adriana in Transparent. Before that, Sahar played The Lady of The Night in Mr. Robot. Sahar is also a recording artist and was called one of Hollywood’s rising talents in OUT Magazine. She has also been crowned Miss L.A. Pride and Queen U.S.A.

Angelica Ross

(Photo credit: Missross.com)

Lately, Ross has been seen on TNT’s summer hit show Claws. She’s also appeared on Transparent and lends her voice to an Amazon Original animated series Danger & Eggs. She has also starred in the TV show Her Story, which follows trans and queer women and the ups and downs of their dating lives.

Pose begins filming in New York City this November!

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“Riverdale”: How to get that Southside Serpents look without joining a gang

After losing interest in Riverdale in the middle of the first season, and after learning about the wild, incest-filled ending, I’ve long since come to the conclusion that Riverdale wasn’t the show for me. As a longtime Archie Comics fan, this show was clearly not marketing itself towards me; it was marketing itself towards tweens and teens.

However, the second season promises the introduction of more badasses–more Southside Serpents are coming, including the appearance of late-in-the-game Archie Comics character Toni Topaz (Vanessa Morgan). Other Serpents include Sweet Pea (Jordan Connor, right) and Fangs Fogarty (Drew Ray Tanner, middle).

South SiDeee🐍 The Serpents are coming 😈 @thecwriverdale @archiecomics

A post shared by Vanessa Morgan (@vanessamorgan) on

The more Southside Serpents there are, the more I’m considering at least keeping up with this upcoming season, since they are so cool (lest we forget good ol’ Joaquin). I’ll be especially keen if, as Digital Spy suggests, Toni could break up the Betty-Jughead power couple, otherwise known as “Bughead.” (I hate Bughead, so I’m rooting for Toni to successfully break up the party.)

If you’d like to get your Serpents fashion on, look no further than Hot Topic, which has quite a bit of Southside Serpents gear.

You can cop these shirts for men and women:

Hot Topic
Hot Topic

But the most valuable thing to get, I think, is the Southside Serpents patch, which comes in both a small iron-on size (pictured) or a big back patch size.

Hot Topic

Sew or iron it onto a jacket and you’ve got instant Serpent street cred.

The Serpents are, by far, the coolest part of Riverdale. They’ve got the cool jackets, the coolest of the show’s characters (Jughead, Joaquin, Jughead’s dad), and the coolest storylines. It’d only make sense that they’d have some cool merch. Now if Toni can break up Betty and Jughead, the Serpents will be the ultimate rulers of Riverdale.