‘From Virgin to Whore:’ Loulou Hong discusses sexuality, gender

As part of the month-long “Whose Responsibility Is It?” events series, Loulou Hong, a nationally recognized crusader against gender-related violence, spoke on Thursday, April 20 about the media representation of men and women and its implications in a lecture entitled “From Virgin to Whore: Fighting Back Against Media Images of Gender and Sexuality.”

Hong spoke for two hours about the media representation of gender and sexuality.

She began her lecture by stating that, while violence against men does occur, it is a much greater problem for women. According to a 1995 survey, one in five women will be a victim of sexual assault, and one in three women born after 1973 will be raped. Fifty percent of all women will be hit during their lives, and 25 percent of all female homicides are committed by a spouse or ex-boyfriend.

While acknowledging that one cannot establish a causal link between the media’s representation of women and violence against women, Hong argued that such representation creates a difficult climate in which to counteract such violence.

“I believe our media culture markets a climate in which violence against women is perceived as normal and force and persuasion is perceived as a normal part of a relationship,” said Hong.

In order to demonstrate how pervasive subordinating representations of women are in our culture, Hong showed a video in which MTV video clips were interspersed with parts of a rape scene from the film The Accused. Although the video clips were supposed to be fictional representations of a dream, they showed a remarkable similarity to the rape scene in terms of their representation of women.

Hong also remarked that pornography, which includes some of the most degrading and subordinating representations of women, often surpasses box-office film as an industry. Also, at the newstand, Playboy and Penthouse regularly outsell Time and Newsweek ten to one.

According to Hong, it is from these dangerous representations that many Americans learn about relationships and sexuality.

While Hong focused on media representation of women, she did remark that the media can have negative implications for men as well. Labeled “masculine hegemony,” one problem is that men feel pressure to be big and strong, fearless and immune to emotions.

Another video clip pointed out that over the last three decades, guns shown in movies have gotten much larger, as have the biceps size of the action figures. If the current action figure of G.I. Joe were to be life-size, his biceps would be six inches larger than baseball star Mark McGwire’s biceps.

Although Hong admitted that there are no “Just Say No” tactics for avoiding violence against women, there are some more fundamental ways of altering American culture.

“Don’t underestimate your ability to be consumers,” said Hong. “Maybe you can’t completely change it but you can see it with open eyes.”

Hong suggested walking out of exceptionally violent movies or refusing to buy degrading magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Glamour. Although the lecture was sparsely attended, Hong captivated her audience.

“I thought she was fantastic in suggesting ways to actually get up and do something,” said Annaliis Abrego ’01.

“I am sad that these were the only people here and I feel like all these issues are so commonplace and unnoticeable that their destructiveness is automatic,” said Grace Rubenstein ’01. “The only way to even begin combating them is to make people aware of it. It is insidious.”

Hong received her bachelor’s degree from Amherst College, masters degree in Public Health from Yale University, and Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Research from Louisiana State University.

A member of the Board of Directors for the American College Health Association, Hong is the Director of Wellness Education and Outreach Services and Assistant Professor in the Department of Kinesiology at Louisiana State University. Hong has received national acclaim for her work with the student organization Men Against Violence at LSU and has a forthcoming article in the May issue of the Journal of American College Health.

Hong’s lecture was sponsored by Williams College Health Center, Williams College Rape and Sexual Assault Network and the “Whose Responsibility Is It?” Committee.

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