Cultures of Engagement

telling stories, hearing lives

Month: March 2014 (page 1 of 2)

Modern Family Matters

Modern Family Matters

            The idea of how a family should be is continually changing. One thing that remains the same however is the fact that there should be two parents to raise a child. It doesn’t matter if they are married, together for life, or a same sex couple. But recently there has been a higher percentage of single-parent households. According to Nicholas Kristof, “Three important effects are the greatly increased incidence of long-term poverty, poor development outcomes and poor educational achievement among the children.” The article I read offers three different options for preventing an accidental pregnancy from happening to a single mother.

The first option is to expand family planning by adding it to the curriculum at school. Offering family planning is supposed to help prevent unexpected pregnancies by educating teens about safe sex. It is also supposed to save money by reducing the amount spent on health care when having a baby. Also educating girls about birth control and other options should be included in the curriculum because according to “Rethinking The Family,” it is our right as women to use these options.  The second option is to end America’s experiment in mass incarceration. The experiment has condemned millions of men to be less appealing as husbands, and it has taken fathers away from their children for very small reasons. I am not in any way saying that women would be helpless without a man, but it is helpful for a child to have two parents around. The third option would be an outreach program to help low income families find jobs. The programs can help keep families together by offering housing and jobs. The program would also help women in the work force because it would give women just as equal an opportunity as men to find a job, which according to “Rethinking the Family” is still a very unequal fight.

Overall it is important that the parent or parents of children can provide for them. We need to educate young teens on safe sex and incorporate it into the school system. Children also need their fathers and mothers to be around and not in jail for petty crimes. While the idea of how a family should look on the outside keeps changing, the idea that a child should be raised by both parents and provided for properly will always be the same.

The Progressive Nature of Social Media

Even just 10 years ago we could see the pope as more of a symbolic idea rather than a person. While the older media avenues has used the pope as a private catalyst to represent the evolving Catholic religion we see a great shift in this traditional interpretation of what being pope means. Today the pope of the Catholic Church is reaching more people than ever. Utilizing the evolving technologies of our time, we see the pope reaching newer and younger audiences.

The face of Catholicism is shifting in thought due to both the pope’s leadership and the message conveyed through public relations. Becoming more liberal and mobile than pope’s past, this religion has intentions to strengthen the faith in current followers and develop it in the younger population. While being connected it is extraordinarily easier to convey a humble and sincere message rather than reading a delayed version in the next day’s paper. This is the heart of how we see a given news source as “myth.”

According Jack Lule’s work, “News as Myth,” the media perpetrates a certain narrative when telling a story idealized for a particular civic group rather than us as individuals or an audience. We can also see how viewing the media and news as “myth” is often subjective to the reader at hand. With the increase in split views and biases in our media formats it seems that everyone has a story to tell, but who are we to believe anymore? With more denigration of media formats between the pope and the people we can have a better picture of what the real meanings and intentions are through an individual or an organization’s words or actions. The Catholic Church in many ways screens and scripts certain messages by the pope, but with an increase in media bias with contrasting or bipartisan voices, a stronger connection between the messenger and the receiver can occur limiting a sense of myth. The family unit is the product of the social environment and the policies that define it. Having a better understanding of what directly effects our social environment can allow us to think more critically of the policies that result and incite change. While widespread media has an influential bias when discussing the inter-working of the pope’s influential workings, we can limit the misinterpretation and assumptions by examining primary and public resources that are now easily accessible.

Welfare Families

In “Black Ladies, Welfare Queens, and State Minstrels: Ideological War by Narrative Means” by Wahneema Lubiano, the author talks about the idea of “what we see is what we get”, therefore many people tend to believe falsely represented ideas. Lubiano does not try to dispute this idea – instead she argues that we need to change the way we choose to represent the things we are choosing to expose. I find this topic rather interesting – especially when it comes to the idea of the “welfare queen”. Working in a grocery store, I see food stamps being used for many things that they should obviously not be used for. You see this everywhere, and Lubiano agrees. On the news, magazines, and on the internet you see people constantly critiquing the use of food stamps, saying that they don’t help anyone and people just use these to get free food because they don’t want to pay for it. However, coming from a very poor home where food stamps were what kept my family alive, I also see the other side. Welfare has kept my family alive through this year.

When I found this article criticizing Governor Chris Christie and her belief that many Americans rely too heavily on welfare and she wishes there was none, I thought back to Lubiano’s article and the idea that people tend to believe what they get. Why are people still making assumptions when they don’t really know the story? Why are people saying poor things about welfare, when they themselves have no idea what it’s like to be poor? It’s all about the representation. Lubiano says that it’s all about representation. How people are seeing these things are what they are going to believe. When people only see welfare being used for selfish things to lazy people, it is quite easy to assume that it isn’t helping anyone after all . A lot of people find the idea of welfare ridiculous. But these people don’t see the other side – the poor families who absolutely need it. The single mom who works 7 days a week and can barely afford rent. The family where the father was laid off due to the economy and is unable to find a job. The family with a disabled mother who is completely unable to work. These people need welfare – not as a permanent solution, but as a temporary one. Sometimes people just need help.

We Aren’t all Barbie Girls

Most girls can say that they played with Barbie dolls as a child. Some can even go as far to say that they envisioned themselves as Barbie. Can you blame those girls? Barbie had it all, a fantastic (although unrealistic) body, a well-mannered handsome boyfriend, and an incomparable career—make that 150 careers. Even as children we unknowingly already were comparing ourselves to Mattel’s idea of the perfect woman. She can do it all: cook, clean, raise a family, and have a successful career—all while smiling and having the perfect outfit and hair.

I don’t mean to hate on Barbie but her latest career choice brought out my feminist anger. Hear me roar, Barbie. In a legacy of female objectification that has now come full circle, Barbie, has debuted her latest modeling career on the alternative cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. The fact that Sports Illustrated felt that it was appropriate to make Barbie a sex symbol is absolutely ridiculous. The whole swimsuit edition is ridiculous actually, but that’s a rant for another day. They’ve taken a child’s toy and presented her as a sexual being for men to gawk at.  If that’s not repulsive (and possibly perverted) I don’t know what is. Perhaps the saddest part of this whole issue is the fact that there has been no apology from Sports Illustrated. They don’t see what’s wrong with what they did. And maybe the blame should be shifted towards society. We didn’t make a big enough fuss to capture the attention and remorse of Sports Illustrated. We have accepted this magazine and what they do year after year. We have allowed them to cross numerous lines, and because of our lack of anger towards this issue, we just let them cross another one.

As weird as it may sound, Barbie is a role model for millions of girls (don’t get me started on the fact that little girls are looking up to a piece of plastic for). Put her on the cover of a mostly men’s magazine, in an issue that has way more to do with sex than sports, and “boom” you’re sending a horrible message to those same little girls. And what’s even worse, they juxtaposed a plastic doll alongside real women. What is that saying to women who see that; we’re on the same level as a piece of plastic? Or even worse, we are plastic. Are we just another object to society?  This cover is an absolute outrage and a low blow to women everywhere. When are we going to start celebrating women for their intelligence not exploiting them for their bodies? And, as women, why do we tolerate it? Sure, we live in a time of “equality”, but the underlying messages in our media in entertainment speak a very different story. In magazines, movies and television shows women are constantly being objectified or even mocked. It’s time we stick it to Barbie, and society as a whole, and tell her how awful a role model she is. It’s time we make our own realistic Barbie, one who is intelligent and doesn’t look like she made the vertical ascent of her career, in a horizontal position­­­­­­.

Welfare State

The article I chose for this blog assignment that seemed very interesting to me is “Gender, Race, and Class: The Impact of the State on the Family and the Economy, 1790-1945” by Boris and Bardaglio. On page 141, Boris and Bardaglio talk about creating a welfare state. “By the late nineteenth century, changes in family law had loosened the power of fathers within families, yet public policies reinforced economic inequality through occupational segregation by sex.” The family wage, along with protective legislation and mothers’ pension laws, improved the conditions of working-class families but further limited women’s options in the labor market.

Here, Boris and Bardaglio use gender as a category of analysis in discussing law and public policy. It is sad to see that most of the reluctance to interfere with family life rarely operated when it came to the lives of the poor or ethnic/racial minorities. “State policy could make it nearly impossible for such minorities to maintain a stable family life” (137).

The second generation of women who really didn’t face equal citizenship were the reformers who fought for the family wage and the programs of the welfare state and who worked to alleviate the suffering of poor women and children. There were certain sections where the Social Security expanded on the mothers’ pension idea which meant that the state had to play the father role since there wasn’t a male breadwinner in those families. Without a caretaker grant, the ADC was not based on wages, but on the simple assumption that mothers were unemployable.

I found a very interesting article from the Orlando Sentinel called “Keep Welfare Families Whole.” There is a young woman in Florida who is unemployed and has two children. Her husband, who is also jobless, had to leave. The state won’t approve welfare if both the parents are at home. I thought this was interesting when tying it back to Boris and Bardaglio because this woman from Florida is basically in poverty. She is well below the poverty line because she gets a $275.00 welfare check and $228.00 in food stamps which puts her at $6,036 a year. She needs to be at $8,500 a year or above to not be in poverty. Boris says, “The family wage was more of an ideal than a reality until World War II” and this woman is definitely living a reality.

I think the article I found definitely ties back to the reading by Boris and Bardaglio especially concerning the assumptions about both men and women’s responsibilities. For example, the law engaged in linking individual family members to the state. Laws and public policies developed a larger support system to aid women in childbearing and rearing. The nineteenth century feminists had campaigned for married women’s property acts out of the belief that “law and public opinion” made “the wife subject to the husband” (134).

The system of law and public policies also reproduced patriarchal social relations without individual patriarchs. Male-dominated families became less important in maintaining patriarchy in the larger social arena. Men were considered to be beneficial to the labor market, so the possibility still had yet to remain in retaining power in families through their economic prowess.

News and Transgender Families

“First, like myth, news offers the steady repetition of stories, the rhythmic recurrence of themes and events” Jack Lule writes in his essay News as Myth (104). What I would like to focus on however is one particular narrative that is told again and again in relation to families or rather families with transgender or gender-queer members. Now most news outlets have only recently begun to report on transgender issues and so far, to my knowledge, gender-queer is not even a term that has had any exposure within the news. News stories regarding trans individuals are also limited to either hate crimes or overcoming enormous odds. It is limited even further when you only consider news stories with the focus on families that in a trans individual. These stories follow the same narrative format of a family with a child who is either in preschool or up to possibly high school having to overcome great odds in our culture raising aforementioned child. Now this story is told, with great effect, to gain support and understanding from citizens especially those who have been hateful or apathetic to the ideology of gender questioning. Its popularity is also due, I think, to presenting the trans child as “safe” and “nonthreatening” to the powers that be.

This trend can be clearly seen in a news article from the Kansas City Star titled ‘I am a girl’: Transgender children face a society slow to accept them. Eric Adler crafts this article by weaving the story of 6 year-old A.J. and her and her family’s experience of her coming to terms with her gender identity while providing thought provoking statistics of transgender individuals and how society reacts to transgenders as a whole. A.J. is used as a symbol for all transgender children facing stigmatization from society. The article goes into how she had felt like she was living a double life as a boy and how her parents coped with the revelation of her gender identity and their ostracization[1] from the community because of it. The article however only focuses on strict gender identity issues as it pertains to the current gender binary. Lule states that news “support[s] the social order and sustain[s] the current state of things” (107). By focusing solely on the binary nature of gender there is the exclusion of any other kind of gender identity and it supports the prevalent notion in our society that there are only two genders. Further, by only publishing transgender family narratives that center around transgendered children there is the inherent exclusion of other transgender family members.

There are no narratives, to my knowledge, of a positive narrative of family in which a parent is transgendered. If a transgendered parent is mentioned at all in the news the narrative is one of tragedy. Our culture has only recently been portraying family units with two dads or two moms and, while this is a step forward, these narratives are still within the framework of the pervasive gender binary. Apparently our mainstream culture cannot conceive of a happy family unit where an adult muddles with our notions of gender.

I do feel that the struggles of transgender children and their families have great value and need to be told, however it is also wise to consider how there is only a single narrative that is provided again and again to the public in regards to families with trans members. While these stories may be positive they are also limiting due to the nature of their singularity.

[1] On google there are various sources that says this is a correct term however Microsoft Word says otherwise. If this is an incorrect term or wrong usage I apologize.

(also I thought I posted this earlier but apparently I didn’t!)

Questionable Morality–Pedophilia and the Catholic Church

Scanning the online edition of my native Minneapolis’ Star Tribune, an article about the pedophilia rampant in the archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul caught my attention. A former Catholic and member of the Twin Cities archdiocese, I was thoroughly disgusted. Among my many criticisms of the Catholic Church is this archaic insistence on exclusively [outwardly] heterosexual, male, unmarried and chaste clergymen. Who does that leave to take the vows of priesthood? Ideally, benevolent men who have never been interested in physical relations with anyone, male or female, and who have no desire to marry or to father (or adopt) children. While there are some priests in the Church who are genuinely devoted to both their faith and their congregations, these unreasonable restrictions on who may enter the priesthood—as well as how those within the clergy are required to conduct themselves—has opened the door to gross sexual misconduct and the exploitation of children whose parents have entrusted their care to the clergy. And generally, the Church does not respond to reports of either consensual sexual misconduct with a member of the congregation or allegations of child molestation because, after all, men of God would never behave in a manner so inconsistent with Church doctrine. It’s all pushed under the rug.

With the patriarchal values that keep women out of the priesthood, as well as absurd notions of sexual purity that are meant to keep men of the cloth chaste and unmarried, it’s really no wonder that molestation within Catholicism has been effectively institutionalized since the Church’s founding. Akin to expressions like ‘everyone has a funny uncle’, dark humor surrounding the worst-kept secret in Catholicism often jabs at the pedophiliac undertones of the priest/altar boy relationship—and the fact that Catholics refer to their priests as “Father” adds a particularly nauseating dash of incest. So what, then, is the religiously devout family supposed to do? Protect the children from potentially harmful encounters by keeping them firmly seated in the pew during Mass? Stop attending church entirely? Or continue to trust in the goodness of the majority of the clergy, sending the kids up to the altar or into Confession like any good Catholic parent would? Perhaps the answer lies in altering Church doctrine itself—but good luck with that.

Unfortunately, there is still a myth that “family values” are synonymous with religious affiliation. Good parents—in their efforts to raise good, morally upright offspring—take their children to church on Sundays. It’s just was “normal” families do. Jack Lule, in his essay News as Myth, cites historian of religion Mecria Eliade as saying, “Religious life, and all the creations that spring from it, are dominated by what one may call ‘the tendency toward an archetype.’” Families taking their children to church and entrusting their care and spritiual educaiton to the clergy may be doing so in an effort to fit the “good Christian family” mold, but are not necessarily leaving their kids in a safe space.

Further to the notion that churchgoers = good parents is the myth that the Church itself is infallible, and that everyone within it is morally superior to those poor suckers who have yet to be saved. The handful of “bad apple” priests are therefore aberrations—the problem is not with the system, clearly, but with troubled individuals. Because it’s totally normal for young, college-aged guys to swear off masturbation and sex for life, never consider marriage or children, and be completely fulfilled in their relationships with Christ. Or maybe it can be a struggle that leads to inappropriately expressed frustrations—possibly to the point of sexual misconduct or child molestation. Not saying that it’s always the case, but one can see where the constraints the Catholic Church puts on its clergy members are less than ideal, or even reasonable. But the Church can do no wrong, so why question it?

‘Without a mom’: Lame Deer family still waiting for cause of death vs. News as Myth

This article in the Missoulian talks of the disappearance and death of Hanna Harris, a single mother on an Indian Reservation. Those two social constructions are key to this article; they take the forefront in how the story is laid out and portrayed to the audience. They cause us, as the article News as Myth by Jack Lule outlines, to make assumptions about the subject of the news and construct reasoning behind her tragedy.
Hanna was a single mother to her son Jeremiah who lived on an Indian reservation. She left her son in the care of her family when she went downtown on Tuesday, July 2. She told her family she would be home later so they could all go to the fireworks show together, but she never returned. Her family reported her missing on Friday, July 5 to the Lame Deer police. The police wouldn’t do anything about her disappearance until the following Monday saying she was probably just out drinking and would turn up. Her body was discovered on July 8 and, though the family suspects foul play after she was seen in a surveillance tape with two individuals who were in possession of her car keys, the FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs aren’t giving them any answers, just saying that it’s an ongoing investigation.

Stereotypes presented in this article about irresponsible single mothers and Native Americans as heavy drinkers goes to show how these constructions play into our news every day. These things don’t have to be in the forefront of the article, but they are because they construct a narrative that is normalized in our society. Though we see single fathers as successes over the stereotypical “deadbeat dad,” our construction of single mothers is one of irresponsibility. The narrative says that Hanna should have never been downtown because she shouldn’t have left her son; it says she was probably just out drinking because our society has constructed stereotypes about Native Americans, especially ones on Reservations, are drunks. These stereotypes become normalized through the article and, though her family has presented what I view as legitimate reasons for their suspicions, the evidence is brushed off because of them.

As in the essay, News as Myth, Jack Lule tells of the construction of news through the normalization of mythical narratives. In his essay, Lule points out just how much news relies on the myths. News stories often repeat the same narrative; in this case, there are the narratives of the single mother and of Native Americans. News relies on these narratives so the story can flow. In this way, news stories don’t always create their own narratives; they’re able to use pre-constructed narratives to propel the story forward. This becomes problematic when readers just take what they read at face value. Instead of looking forward into the true story and the true narrative, readers take what’s already been constructed and run with it.

Original news source, click here.

“American Dream” Scavenger Hunt – Families & The Media Group


1) For our group presentation, we decided to look at this year’s main Coke advertisement from the superbowl. The main reason we chose to look at this piece was because of the controversy of that surrounded the advertisement. Within the commercial America the Beautiful is sung by a variety of ethnicities. Not only that but, for each ethnicity, each individual sang it in their native language. Images of everyday life were being projected onto the screen. This commercial is the “American Dream”. Many different people, speaking many different languages, all doing something that resembled American life. This commercial promoted the idea of the “American Dream” to the viewers. It says, ‘no matter what color skin you have, no matter where you are from, and no matter what language you speak, we are all American, and the “Dream” is out there for us.’ This is what the “American Dream” is about today. Coke is also appealing to its slogan “Open Happiness”, since the “American Dream” is meant to be a happy thought. Coke wants Americans to be happy and chase this “American Dream”.


2) American Dad is the perfect television example of the “American Dream” ideal. Stan Smith represents the patriarchal head of household with the perfect family. His beautiful wife Francine is often expected to fulfill domestic roles while her husband works for the government. Their nuclear family structure (heterosexual, married parents with two children) and suburban home perpetuate the idea of the “American Dream.” Even though the show is often a humorous critique of traditional, American values, Stan’s family is portrayed as the ideal family. In Season 5, Episode 11, Roger is depicted as the stereotypical welfare mother. This image is juxtaposed with Stan and his family eating together at the dinner table. When families enter welfare programs it typically implies that they need money to help provide for their families because they don’t reach a certain income. In this episode the nuclear family (and the audience) looks critically on the welfare mother as she declared she was spending her welfare check to buy unnecessary things such as candy and alcohol. The welfare family unit is thoroughly coded as NOT the “American Dream” and as something disgusting and lesser than the “true” nuclear family. These conflicting images show viewers which families are considered legitimate and desirable versus illegitimate in the United States; an individual is supposed to search for “the one,” marry, have children, and buy a house. This is seen as the successful “American family”, and these ideas are supported by media representations.


3) Race shapes different families across the “American Dream” because it affects families’ access to what is included in that “American Dream.” For those who don’t constitute as “American” or “Newly American” it becomes an issue of “ well you’re in America, what more do you want? Work and work and maybe you’ll get somewhere” instead of the idea of having easier access to success simply because you are in America like many believe the “American Dream” to be. We’ve decided to look at the Cheerios commercial linked at the bottom of this. This example utilizes cultural assumptions about race to categorize families because it made the viewers catch themselves and played with our American culture. In the beginning the viewer sees the white mother and then a bi-racial child enters the frame. We don’t really notice that the child is bi-racial or that this is an interracial family until the view switches to the child black father in the next room. We didn’t even notice, but we assumed for the child’s father to be white or maybe another race but black would be the last guess. It may not be because of any underlying racism in the viewer but it is because this is what the media pumps into us regularly.

Black ladies and welfare queens

Black ladies and welfare queens brought to my attention the infuses we place on the meanings of family roles and those individuals within the family. In this case the label welfare queen is a very general title that suppresses the person with this label. It becomes negative and may down play that persons need for assistance. With all of this in consideration I couldn’t help but think about new ways to approach these different archetypes that we have in our society. I raise the questions that are all archetypes and generalizations about family bad and could they actually serve some type of purpose?

Understanding that this maybe an odd way of viewing stereotypes but, our culture thinks this way for a reason, why not try to understand it and then work on changing it. I think the term welfare queen is inappropriate but, maybe this title could help some women out after all. When others know and see people in need they are more likely to help them so, although this may not be the best terminology to use it may spark someone’s interest in helping and stopping so many mothers and women from being in situations like this.  Another example would be the unfortunate status of being a single mother.  When my oldest sister tells people that she is a single parent people automatically make assumptions about her and her daughters father. They immediately sympathize with her and are quick to become a source of help if she were to ever need it. Although my sister does not like this attention and does not need assistance she’s never turned down the assistance either. So, maybe there are more aspects to having a stereotypical single more or welfare queen status than we consider.

 Again, I’m not saying that having these archetypes in our society are good things to have. Telling people what is “normal” or “ideal” only makes others feel ostracized. The Black ladies and welfare queens reading just made me think differently about these types of situations and made me want to understand the way we do things rather than just trying to explain why these stereotypes are wrong.

« Older posts