Colloquium generates conversation on ‘critical’ topics

By Samantha Brandbergh

How do gender roles in cartoons influence children? How are those on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) spectrum represented in the Latinx community? 

Student research on these topics and more were presented during the Gender and Sexuality Studies (GSS) colloquium on March 29. 

What began as an outlet for students to report on women’s issues has since broadened its scope from 35 years ago, with students presenting work on all aspects of gender and sexuality. 

One of the first panels of the day, “Media Representations of Gender,” explored how male and female stereotypes are challenged in television, film and advertising. 

Senior psychology major Hanna Rosenzweig presented her paper entitled “‘Rugrats’ Challenges Gender Norms.” It discussed three episodes of the popular ’90s cartoon that tackled social issues, such as Phil and Chuckie wearing dresses and Angelica’s mother balancing work and parenting. 

Watching the show as a child, Rosenzweig said she didn’t notice how gender norms were being challenged within the characters themselves. Looking back, however, she realizes the program was ahead of its time. 

“Our society is changing now, especially with how the family [dynamic] and different gender roles are being portrayed,” she said. “It surprises me that they were doing that back in the ’90s. Not a lot of shows are challenging gender norms now. They’re still portraying stereotypical roles.” 

While some presentations focused on femininity, others honed in on how the media, specifically advertising, portrays what it means to be masculine. 

Sophomore public relations major Ethan Duer’s research centered around how ads, especially those for the cologne Old Spice, can influence the public’s ideas on masculinity.

Known for its over-the-top and humorous television commercials portraying stereotypical masculine men, such as actor and former National Football League practice squad wide receiver Isaiah Mustafa, Old Spice has a “dangerous undertone,” Duer said. 

“It creates this element of, ‘Are you man enough?’” he said. “[Old Spice] says, ‘Yeah, you may not be able to live up to this [image], but if you decide to use our product, you’ll be covered under the umbrella idea that it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you smell like this.’” 

While many advertisements on television and the internet can lead to women’s self-confidence plummeting, Duer argues that Old Spice ads have a similar effect on men. 

“It installs this idea in men’s heads that this is the type of behavior that women will accept,” he said. 

In addition to panel discussions, the GSS program presented Susan Stahley, education coordinator for alcohol, drug and sexual assault prevention, with the Ziegler-Gee Award, which is given to “the person who has significantly contributed to end gender-based discrimination.” Junior sociology major Kelsey Marziale received the Virginia J. Cyrus Scholarship Award, honoring the late professor who created the event. 

The final panel of the GSS colloquium applied historical context to gender and sexuality, specifically with senior secondary education major Kimberly Rodriguez’s presentation “LGBTQ+ Erasure in the Latinx Community.” 

Rodriguez spoke on the idea of “machismo,” or “macho behavior or talk taught through actions and speech,” citing “City of God,” a collection of stories by Gil Cuadros. 

“Communication only exists to perpetuate machismo, and any other use is worthy of punishment or exile,” she said. “The lack of productive communication in the community affects all members, especially those who are marginalized, specifically, the Latinx LGBTQ+ community.” 

Rodriguez’s presentation touched on topics regarding the shunning of those infected with AIDS as depicted in Cuadros’ story “Unprotected,” and the unwelcoming nature of Latinos to the LGBTQ+ community. 

“Conversation about HIV and AIDS had to be negative, and if it was not derogatory, it was not worth saying,” she said. 

Although she is not a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Rodriguez is of Latin descent and has witnessed ideals surrounding machismo her whole life. 

“That’s why I chose to talk about it,” she said. “My first presentation [at the colloquium], I talked about cat-calling and how that relates to machismo.” 

Throughout her life, Rodriguez said, machismo has played a role in her and her brother’s relationship with their parents.

“My brother was allowed to learn how to drive and I wasn’t, and he’s one year older than me,” she said. “So, it’s the little things that show he’s allowed to live this life sooner.” 

Erica Ryan, GSS program director, said that the students “brought critical issues to the forefront of the Rider community as a whole.”

“It is always important to be reminded of the ways sexuality and gender operate in our society, and our 16 student panelists did that very well last week,” she said.

Published in the 4/4/18 edition. 

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