Gender Bender

It has been quite some time since I’ve written about gender in a socioeconomic way. Perhaps, it was a natural ‘distancing’ that occurred after I finished my MA thesis and did not immediately jump into another higher education program? Or rather, it was the disgust in being labeled a ‘feminist’ in a vulgar regard, much the same as I would be labeled a tramp or a whore? Anyways, I wanted to share some things that I find to be incredibly interesting regarding gendered economic thought and its place in our culture and society today. Don’t worry I’m not gonna start burning my bra, I’m looking to set fire to the whole damn system.

Gender and economics are something every single woman (AT THE VERY LEAST) should be thinking about, talking about, and getting f&*king PISSED about. Things are dire. In fact, I went my whole higher education without ever hearing the words ‘gender economics’ until I worked on my thesis. WHAT THE F*&k?! The social expectations and economic limitations of being female are absurd. We still live in a world where we are told we MUST look, dress, and appear a specific way in order to be successful, loved, or deemed ‘good.’ There are still some horrifically unequal gendered statistics in our ‘country of equals’ such as pay between genders, active roles in our legislature and congress (<20% are women!), and in economic activity. You can access quite a bit of data and statistics through the United Nations here to look at more gender-biased statistics in our entire world. Further, according to The Economist’s ‘Women’s Economic Opportunity’, the United States is the 15th most ‘opportunistic’ economy for women. Are we not a world leader? Yet economic opportunity for women is less than most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand in terms of labor involvement, access to finance and education, and legal status. (Oh that’s right there are still parts of the world where women are not even considered legal citizens!) I love this article from the Huffington Post about how US Women can even be considered second-class citizens – especially the preface of “Uh-oh. I’m a woman. With feelings. Am I going to get too emotional? Will there be tears? How is it possible that I can have intelligent, clear, informed thoughts with all of these emotions flowing through me?”

Next, about the expectations of gender on both male and females in our economy. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that youth culture and adults are fed all sorts of information regarding physical standards and therefore influence beauty consumption. I stumbled upon a documentary during my thesis research that inspired me to make a difference and be a difference in this. Miss Representation is an eye-opening look at media/advertising and its effect on culture and economics. Honestly, it’s baffling that we are influenced so much by companies and their products – literally most of these companies do not even care about the consumer or want to add value to their lives – it’s purely for profit. I would highly recommend checking this documentary out on Netflix instant video right now too.

The creator of this ‘movement’ via Miss Representation is Jennifer Newsom and she branched out to include changing views and expectations on many gender based instances. You can see her current project Curating Change here. It is worth a look as it deals with many of the changing gender roles our culture sees today – from “Mr. Moms to the faces of masculinity”.

Honestly, gender is a taboo topic in our culture. While it can be said that sexual-orientation gender advocates are seeing progress, the overall goal of gender equality is failing. In fact, it is a joke. It’s sad to me that our culture degrades anyone who does not fit into the ‘typical’ model that has been stereotyped and forced on so many individuals. Further, to even question the system young/old men and women are laughed at. I am a feminist. I can proudly say that and in doing so does come the negative backlash from BOTH women and men alike. I personally demonstrate my hatred for gendered stereotypes, by not only crafting and baking (traditionally female hobbies), but pursuing my advanced education in Economics and working in Economics academically. Believe me, I have never been ‘among equals’ as the boys love to say in my professional and academic career – and you know what they are right – I AM above the standards and I am motivated and enraged enough to start making some social and cultural changes. Not just in my consumption, but in my way of life. (Hell I already am a ‘sober outcast’ I might as well make that outlier status mean something powerful.) People, especially women, should be livid about what is expected of us. Burning bras might be laughable now, but I can understand how tempting it would be to lash out at a majority society that just laughs off any sort of change to status quo.

There is a popular saying floating around and one that saw each time I visited my advisor’s office while working on my graduate degree, that says “If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.” I couldn’t agree more. Without diverging too far from the subject of gendered economics, this is a statement that rings true in our entire culture. From the production processes of all of our consumer goods, to our basic thoughts as a consumer driven society – things are really ‘messed up.’ I’ll candidly state that I fear for our economic system, our morality or lack thereof as a people, and the overall health of our planet. I am educated enough on our current economic system to objectively, mathematically, and appropriately find the flaws and the dependencies it is effing based on. I fear so much sometimes, that it keeps me awake – pondering where we are heading. I sometimes wish I was naive about economics, finance, and the general health of our entire monetary system. Would I do things differently if I didn’t have my bug-out bag prepped and didn’t spend a good 5 hours each week worrying where I would go if something happened to a city in which I am virtually alone? It’s intense to think of the ‘what-ifs’ and to begin to prepare establishes some kind of relief, but in so far as just facilitating more anxiety and more situations to ‘be prepared for.’ (Coming soon boys and girls, GFK’s how to prep for the apocalypse every Friday! am I joking? Maybe. I’m not sure.) I digress, when are people including myself going to start being the change and the difference? When will we all realize that we are ones in control? Literally, we are the power.

We are the power.

GFK

Thesis Process Deconstructed

Well they accepted my thesis. It’s over.  Read my thesis story and give yourself a pat on the back for encouraging me over the past year writing this beast. 

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I always had a personal interest during my graduate process about working with an idea of fashion or luxury items.  The idea of selective consumerism was interesting and who doesn’t like an item with a label?  Maybe some granolas? No, even they covet the Whole Foods brand and Tom’s.  Finding the type of story I wanted to tell was challenging.  That was until one of my professors sent me a detailed set of current journal articles all about luxury consumption and its economic impact.  This revealed to me the world of conspicuous consumption aka “keeping up with the Jones.” I was fascinated by Thorstein Veblen’s work in the luxury and socio-economic field.  This was my starting point from here I tried to narrow my topic and find an advisor to support this unconventional idea.   Unfortunately, no professors were ready to join my luxury goods interest thesis process and I didn’t really know what to do.  I didn’t want a mathematically biased or financial biased thesis so they were kind of at a loss for what to focus on.  I decided to deal more exclusively with organic beauty items as my cosmetologist background made this area familiar and approachable.  Fortunately for me I took an Environmental Economics class and found a professor who could finally support my interests and get behind my thesis.  An added bonus was that she was a positive female mentor in the economics department – seriously without a female graduate mentor I was sinking fast in my department amongst the male dominated culture.  (Gender – such an influential topic in our decision making processes.)  I decided organic beauty/the environment/gender all had important economic implications and began my journey.  The best advice I received about my thesis was that you wouldn’t know when it was done until it was done.  So true but so hard to accept this truth.  It should be easy to outline a paper and to easily follow said outline to ensure the paper is well organized and completed in a timely fashion.  Well, this is easier said than done and although I had an outline – in fact I had outlines coming out my ears – it was hard to stick to just an outline especially when the social perspective of conspicuous consumption was conveyed.  So I started with what I knew, reading.  I read and read and then read more – journals, books, case studies, articles, websites, and annual reports.  I read until I figured out the story I wanted to tell – err more or less. 

My actual writing began in the late winter of 2012.  I wrote what I considered an amazing 30 pages about the history of the beauty industry and how the organic beauty industry was formed.  These 30 pages still exist in my paper in roughly one to two paragraphs in the first chapter…..  I soon found that what I was writing was not exactly what a thesis is.  From here I re-outlined my main story and started trying to fill in the gaps with you guessed it! More reading! By the start of the Fall 2012 quarter I had a decent introduction and almost all of a first chapter written.  By the end of that quarter (10 weeks) I had chapters 2 and 3 more or less formed.  This was when we actually starting editing.  See, before all those read marks on my paper were just more clarification issues – trying to make the ideas clear to present them.  Now the ideas themselves were being poked, shaped, removed, or morphed to fit the entire paper and my story.  This was hard – cutting out entire pages of writing, expressing my idea in a way that meant something and was not convoluted.  It was painstaking to time and time again remove repeated ideas that I had expressed in a slightly different way.  To work through an idea at first was very clunky and force, but then started becoming easier and more fluid.  The paper shrunk then expanded and before the conclusion was written it was already 80+ pages.  I reorganized Chapter 3 entirely moving topics around and editing content to reflect that.  By this time it was the end of Winter quarter 2013 and I was restless – I wanted to throw together the conclusion and be done.  My ever helpful advisor was there to slap me back to reality – that I would be submitting a paper worthy of submitting not a ‘thrown-together’ version of my original idea.  How dare she want my thesis to be readable, interesting, and worthy of the degree and department!  In the end it took me weeks to write my conclusion – also as if it were the death or slow finality of the process I didn’t know when it would be finished or what that final chapter really meant until suddenly one day it was done.  Just like the advice I had received before my thesis journey, it was finally over and I knew my paper was whole. 

With some slight edits to the conclusion it was time to send it off to my defense committee.  Who had been patiently waiting since Fall 2012 for my thesis since at the end of each quarter I would have to send them an email telling everyone it was not ready yet – sorry for getting their hopes up.  This, believe it or not, was less than a month ago.  The defense which was two weeks ago was brutal.  In every sense of the meaning it was brutal.  My ideas, my paper, “my baby” was ripped apart – every hole or unmentioned topic was brought up and my thesis looked to me more like a festering sore than something clean and cherished.  There was a moment in my defense during the comments portion as a feminist economist brought up the lack of pessimism in my thesis regarding gender equality that I really thought I was going to fail.  But, after further discussion, the comments portion was more or less exploring where my paper could go – given a future dissertation or a book.  Each member seemed excited about the possibility of further research and writing (which was encouraging).  Then I was told I just had a few revisions to work on and it would be finished. 

Thankfully it only took the better part of my lunch break the following week to finish the items we discussed for revision.  The formatting of the paper was actually the most difficult part of the paper for me and required two nights of edits to make everything consistent with school guidelines.  But then I finally got the all clear that it was finished.  I submitted it and now it is over.  It’s finally over.

There were so many emotions during this process.  Sometimes I felt like I was writing garbage – that my topic did not matter at all and that my ideas were not related to economics.  Thank God I had enough people behind me supporting me and telling me to push onward.  I believe my Dad was the person to just tell me to buckle down and get it done (well he may have been a little more forceful and direct with his word choice)– and finally I listened and did.  This process humbled me as a writer and showed me that even a graduate student can feel as bright as a bag of hammers.  In the end I’m happy I’m done – I’m pleased with my 100+ page project.  It’s been a hell of a year plus a few months and I can’t wait to focus more of my writing energy on this blog and not my thesis.

Hopefully I will be able to post a copy of my thesis here – I’m unsure if DU will be okay with that since they technically own my thesis because I was their little academic mignon for so long.  I doubt many would really want to read it – I don’t know maybe some of you would want to read it.  It’s strange to be done, but I’m overwhelmed with the end being here.  Finally I can stop procrastinating my thesis writing and my life and move forward with whatever I chose. Oh and I guess if I feel super egotistical I can be one of those people who writes MA after my name.  Brianna Connelly MA.  Hmmm Brianna Connelly PhD still looks better.