Tag Archives: society

Why do people hate honor students?

Recently during my morning commute, I saw a bumper sticker ahead of me that read, “My Dog is smarter than your honor student.” Aside from the interesting capitalization (why capitalize “dog” over “honor student”?), I started to wonder what it was about American society that drives people to affix hard-to-remove stickers on their primary modes of transportation declaring their belligerent attitudes towards honor students.

I’m not so much interested in why people brag about their children being honor students; parents bragging about their children is nothing new (especially if your parents are Asian like mine). What’s much more interesting is the cottage industry that has sprung up around the dismissal of honor student achievements (by comparing them to dogs) or downright threatening honor students (such as the bumper sticker that reads “My kid can beat up your honor student”). It’s understandable if someone grows annoyed at the constant bragging of peoples’ honor students (though think of the last time you actually saw an unironic declaration of pride for their child’s honor student status as a bumper sticker – I can’t remember either). Maybe they say a flippant remark or make fun of them to their friends. But something drives a person to pay money to buy a bumper sticker and then take time to actually put it on the bumper of their car because they hate honor students so much. This is a significant amount of effort to declare one’s opinion about honor students. And certainly it says something about our society when such a cottage industry can exist (and thrive).

Social critics in the United States often accuse our society of having a strong anti-intellectualism streak. Do these bumper stickers prove them right?

3 Comments

Filed under life stories, parenting

Society, polygamy, obsession and growing up

I still carry scars from middle school, a traumatic time of my life. I had just moved to a new school district, and I had to make new friends. I was young, naive, awkward, socially inept, too smart for my own good, arrogant, and scared out of my mind. I did a lot of really stupid things, a lot of really embarrassing things, and a lot of really awkward things that I replayed them in my mind over and over and over. For the longest time, I felt like my life after middle and high school was to shake off my uncool past and become even cooler than anyone could imagine. I oscillated between smug self-acceptance (“they just don’t understand what real cool is, the unwashed masses”) and self-hatred (“I am the most uncool person in the world and I must totally remake myself if I’m ever to overcome my horribly uncool past”).

You may think this is kind of hilarious, and it really kind of is, but at the time, from the age of 12 to 24 and beyond, I struggled with this. I moved away, and, out-of-touch with any of my old school friends, I replayed those uncool instances, which only became more and more uncool, which sent my brain into feverish justification mode for my uncoolness in an attempt to spin it into a better type of cool, or I just hated myself. This drove a lot of my mentality, especially in social situations.

Then, I got married, I had some hard life lessons, and I moved back home. Despite a still-haven’t-graduated-from-college status and unemployed-except-for-freelancing-work-here-and-there-because-my-wife-encourages-me-to-pursue-my-dream-to-be-a-writer status, my old school friends, ranging from med students and doctors to non-profit social workers and teachers, welcomed me with open arms, accepting me for who I am, and being the nicest bunch of people to my wife, who they had never met before. Sometimes, when we sit around and talk, an embarrassing story of me crops up — and like everyone else, I just laugh. Suddenly, in the light of day, they aren’t as bad as I thought, and I realized that even though I did some really bizarre, awkward things as a kid, that’s just what they were — bizarre and awkward and embarrassing. They were no real blemish on my character, or some kind of moral deficiency that created a sense of uncool. I realized that everyone does some really weird things, and you know, it’s okay.

I tell this story because our Church is still growing up when it comes to polygamy. Try it. Mention polygamy around a faithful Mormon member. Watch their face turn red. Watch their eyes narrow or bulge. Their mouth will begin to motorize into overdrive mode while their brain frantically pulls out all of the justifications for why it happened:

Ohmygoodnessareyoustillalluponpolygamyitwasbannedin

1900over100yearsagoandwedon’tdoitanymoreexceptforthe

FLDStheyarenotmormonbyanymeansandyouneedtolayofftherewere

lessmenthanwomenandalotofmendiedduringthemobattacksand

itwasonlyasmallpercentageofthepopulationandit’s

biblicadon’tyouknow

Whoa! Chill out, my Mormon brothers and sisters!

Sadly, the polygamy issue is still on our American society’s zeitgeist, mostly due to things in the news (FLDS compound raids), media (Big Love and Sister Wives), and literature (The Lonely Polygamist). And you know what? That’s okay. Because, let’s all say this together, polygamy was a part of our past.

There. Okay. Breathe. And say it again.

Polygamy was part of our past.

Good.

Polygamy is very much a part of our past, a part of our culture, and even a part of our doctrine still today. It permeates almost everything, from our genealogy to our temple covenants. Most Utahn and Idahoan Mormons claim polygamous ancestry. My wife does not have to trace her line very far before she ends up becoming related to them. At least four of our prophets were polygamous. Even some of the house architecture in Utah still reflects the polygamous mindset.

A lot of people are uncomfortable with polygamy because it is weird. Many feminists don’t like it because it can perpetuate abuse. Conservatives don’t like it because it conflicts and competes with the standard nuclear family concept. And yet, there it is. The more we deny it, the more we look like ostriches with our heads in the sand. The more we run circles and try to rationalize and distance ourselves from it, the greater our angst towards polygamy and our own Mormon identity grows.

The minute someone says, “Oh, you’re polygamous, right?” many Mormons think smugly, “Oh, how ignorant of them.” This, I repeat, this is a defense mechanism. You put yourself above the person so that you cannot be touched by any of their possibly hurtful comments, no matter how flippant. But this is wrong. We are left with two choices with this kind of thinking — straight up denial (which is not truth) or running away from our heritage (which we can’t unless we are truly prepared to scrub all traces of polygamy from our Church, which I don’t see happening anytime soon). But there is a better, third, middle way — acceptance.

Polygamy is a part of our collective history. It might be embarrassing. Maybe it’s even painful to recollect. But it’s there. The longer we deny it or try to change it, the longer we  as a Church will continually bob back and forth between self-hatred (and try to recreate ourselves as a completely anti-polygamous group and hate on others who practice it, which is dangerous, uncharitable, and disingenuous) and smugness (and try to label anyone who brings up polygamy as ignorant and laugh haughtily at their stupidity and discount anything they say, which is dangerous, uncharitable, and disingenuous).

When I see us backpedaling and running around trying to tell the world that “Oh my GOSH we are NOT polygamous OKAY?!?!?!??!?!!!”, all I see is our own angst and embarrassment, exposed for everyone to see. It’s clear that we as Mormons are more uncomfortable with our polygamous past than anyone else, and it makes us look kind of guilty, guys.

I remember a friend writing a play, and in that play one of the characters was obsessed with people thinking he wasn’t gay. And so, in response to every inquiry, he would shout, “I’m NOT gay!” In one of the funniest parts of the play, his roommate during a gathering of friends asks him for a sandwich, to which he yells, “Guys, I’m NOT gay, okay?! Geez, lay off!” Silence. And then, a friend meekly asks if he’s gay. Because when you deny it that much, when you become obsessed with the idea that people might think you are, people start to wonder if you really are. In a way, we might actually be perpetuating the idea ourselves with our incessant insistence, even when the topic of polygamy comes up as a matter-of-fact statement (like the weather) and not an accusation.

One of the owners of the company my wife works for just recently found out she’s Mormon. Upon hearing this, he asked her, “So, are you a first-wife?” When he saw her puzzled expression, he turned to one of the other owners and asked, “Mormons are polygamous, right?” My wife laughed.

“No, we were once, but we’re not anymore.” No angst. No rationalization. No backpedaling. Imagine instead if my wife tried to explain men to women ratios or Biblical patriarchs or something about having to restore all things in a restoration or (more commonly) angry, hostile reactions of “Oh my goodness, how stupid can you be?” A simple statement, a laugh, and crisis averted. Nothing here to see, people. Move along.

Corrected, they shrugged. It made more sense that way anyway.

My hope is that with all of this gay marriage stuff and the inevitable trend of our society’s normalizing and accepting it, polygamy will also follow suit. And then, finally, we can set it behind us as just another fact in our collective history and let it go and, as a people, move on. The problem is, when that opportunity comes, will we drop the burden and give a sigh of relief, or will we hold onto that burden tightly, unwilling to drop it because for such a long period of our culture’s history, it has provided us with some sort of co-dependent purpose and identity?

2 Comments

Filed under life stories, religion

The Glorious Church of the Future

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt
“Citizenship in a Republic,”
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

There’s something admirable about Communist Russia. Well, at least to the idealist in me. Yes, it pretty much ended in horrible, miserable failure and millions lost their lives. But at least at the onset, the serfs once ruled by the Czar were free, and they used that freedom to trust in humanity, their leaders, and the Glorious Future. They took the opportunity to try and stamp out greed in indolence, to maximize efficiency, to create a worker’s paradise and a utopia for the common man.

I feel the same way about the failed commune living attempted by the Church in the early days. A good portion of members I know take a very condescending, scoffing attitude whenever the idea of consecration applied in reality comes up as a topic. “Of course it would fail,” they say, “Because humans aren’t perfect. And because of that, we have the law of tithing to compensate.” To them, consecration was a doomed endeavor from the start, and that disdain for the idea of applied consecrated living stems from the pessimism they hold towards their fellow man. Had it been any other man, the story of a self-proclaimed prophet trying to apply commune living and failing disastrously would be met with smug, patrionizing smiles. “How naive,” the naysayers in the Church would say. “He should have known better.”

In effect, they’re saying God should have known better.

The Church in the early days were obsessed with the idea of building Zion, the Kingdom of God. This kingdom was not a spiritual kingdom; it was a literal, physical kingdom established to herald in the last days. Zion wasn’t a place you carried in your heart; Zion was the New Jerusalem established by the Saints, a place of gathering and refuge where the laws of God rose higher than the petty laws of men. Because of the Church’s inability to perfect themselves like Enoch’s people did, however, God drove them into the wilderness until they could repent, and the core of American Mormons haven’t left Utah to this day.

Sometimes I wonder if the Church acts incredibly conservatively because of the incidents in the past. Many times, the Church reached for incredibly lofty goals – relocation and colonization of the Western frontier to create a vast Mormon territory (the Jell-o Belt today), the Kirtland anti-bank, the United Orders and the Orders of Enoch. If people think that the free market is implied within the Mormon doctrine of agency, they need to reconsider the economic history of the Church – such an idea so squarely rooted in the exploitation of human greed and vice to balance out the aggregate of transactions holds no place in an early theology which so resoundedly rejected the influence of mammon.

I can’t help but look back at those days wistfully like I do at the early days of the Soviet Union. How inspiring that must be, a gathering of workers and everyday men and women who have decided to live differently, to rise above the petty squabbles of society around them, to literally build something from the ground up bigger than themselves individually. Even if those endeavors failed, I can’t help but say to myself, “At least they tried.”

At least they tried, unlike us today. They believed in the Glorious Church of the Future, a church which would continue to propel itself into the horizons everyone else failed to think about. Joseph Smith introduced a cosmology that expanded into the inifite reaches of space, worlds without end, people without number. He introduced a theology which expanded the Trinity into the Godhead, revealed the idea of a the Feminine Divine as Heavenly Mother before most Christians even thought of it, a narrative for man where he could become exalted above the angels. The early prophets forsaw a people at the forefront of art, history, sciences, mathematics, scholarship, and technology. They continually pushed the boundaries of what people felt was possible, challenging the Saints at every turn.

Our Church today, however, is the Glorious Church of the Past. I can understand; it’s human nature, and it also comprises the paradoxical nature of this post. I pine for the days of old when it seemed like the Church didn’t care whether their projects succeeded or failed – the important thing was that they tried time and time again to live the law. And so, I can understand that every General Conference, the Brethren bemoan the state of the world, how terrible it is, how incredibly noble and virtuous society used to be, how we need to reject the advances of man in the future. They are unfamiliar, unsafe, untested. Joseph Smith believed in his followers, claiming that all he had to do was teach correct principles and the Saints would govern themselves. Leaders today tell us exactly what we can and cannot wear, for perhaps even the flash of female shoulder skin would drive men into a sexual frenzy. But, of course, that’s because humans will ultimately fail, and we should account for that. Better to be cautious and avoid any compromising situations rather than shoot for the heavens and potentially embarrass ourselves. After all, only a fool would  charge in, hoping that ideals will trump reality.

Right?

Unfortunately, this often translates into horrible backwardness, with people claiming they don’t “believe” in evolution (as if you could also disbelieve gravity or the germ theory), a church that invests millions of dollars into a high-end shopping mall next to their Mecca instead of investing in something more humanitarian-oriented like schools or hospitals in poor areas, who remain scared and superstitious of the recent leaps we’ve made as a society. We have become like the people in the Book of Mormon who cry, “We already have a Bible and have no more need for more Bible!” Our leaders more often work to build a hedge around the law like the rabbis of old rather than push the boundaries of theology, or clarify old doctrines in light of new knowledge. Revolutionary ideas that we used to be proud of like Heavenly Mother are played down, eventually almost discarded. The new Gospel Principles manual has almost been scrubbed free of all references to Her. Ironically enough, the rest of Christian theology has finally recognized the deficiency in the concept of God without the Divine Feminine concept and have worked to incorporate it into their own schools of thought, while we (who once pushed the boundaries with this idea a hundred years before) quietly sweep it under the carpet.

As we break the cusp of human limits, I wonder how Joseph Smith would have felt about our times today. Would he have marveled at the beautiful simplicity and flexibility of evolution, the magnificence of human philosophy considering the equality and individual rights of humans? Would he have read our tracts on philosophy and theology and history eagerly, devouring all of the information we’ve built up over the years? Would he have continued to prod the psychologists to yield what they’ve learned concerning the human brain, studied about our knowledge in human behavior, no matter how incomplete our knowledge is today? And would he have taken this vast corpus of learning we have acquired, and began to incorporate it all into the framework of Mormon theology, reinterpreting advances as they come in the light of the Restored Gospel, ever looking forward for the future when more light and knowledge will be revealed?

I would like to think that he would, and thank his lucky stars that he lived in the Glorious Future.

4 Comments

Filed under religion

Gender roles and video games: Or, why do guys play as girls all the time online?

Edit: My friend Jill wrote a passionate, well-thought out and well-written counterpoint to my blog post.

Leigh Alexander is probably one of the more controversial video game journalists because she refuses to shelf her gender while writing about video games. It’s what I find most interesting and admirable about her, since she speaks very frankly about her experiences as a female immersed in the male-dominated, sometimes misogynistic gamer culture. Some people hate it, but I find it refreshing when a video game journalist speaks his or her mind, whether it’s about gender or specs.

Persona 3, now with 100% more female playable character!

Persona 3, now with 100% more female playable character!

Recently, she wrote an article titled “What I Discovered From Gaming Like A Girl”. The Persona series is a video game franchise that revolves around Jungian psychology; game mechanics emphasize building relationships and learning to shuffle from one persona to the next depending on the social situation. It’s all very mind bending and deep (and coincidently one of the few video games out there that have strong female protagonists). Usually, the tabula rasa main character is a male, but recently Persona 3 was remade for the Playstation Portable with the option of playing the game as a girl. Leigh Alexander details how her game play subtly changed because she was playing a girl. She struggled between making decisions that would increase her power levels in the game over decisions that would reflect more “lady-like” behavior. Gender, it turns out, matters when you play video games.

Lara Croft, circa 1997

Lara Croft, circa 1997

Females in games have always been controversial and rocky. I remember when Tomb Raider first came out and my friends gawked at the screen, rotating the camera, enjoying her polygonal, large breasted body. At the same time, there’s the common archetype of G.I.R.L., or “guy in real life”; behind most female avatars in a game like World of Warcraft (or any other mmo) is a male at the computer. I stand guilty as charged, since the character I’m playing right now is a female gnome. My choice to play female characters in World of Warcraft revolves around the fact that male characters to me feel grotesque. Female characters’ proportions (from bust to hip) are exaggerated as well, but the male characters seem too hyper-masculine – and perhaps, even though I’m a male, I’m intimidated by their monstrous physique. There’s various reasons why when you question other people – my friend James plays a catgirl in Final Fantasy XI and his justification is that if he’s going to have to stare at a character’s backside all day it might as well be attractive. My friend Troy also agrees. But I know that for my friends and I, we don’t really play females in WoW to swivel the cameras and drool – we invest a large amount of time into playing a character with a real, developed personality.

Gender roles, emphasized in pixels

Gender roles, emphasized in pixels

But why as a girl? Why do males play as females all the time? Is it purely sex? Do we fantasize about them as we push our buttons and wait for cooldowns to expire? As someone who plays a female, that hasn’t been my experience. But I couldn’t really explain it. I just prefer to play as a female, and it puzzled me for a long time. What is it about playing a female that seemed so attractive? After reading Leigh Alexander’s article, I think I might have a reason why.

I had the opportunity once to run several Dungeons and Dragons campaigns for a group of young adolescents. The results defied my expectations. In Dungeons and Dragons (and most paper and pen role playing games), you create a character that you represent. It’s similar to World of Warcraft, except D&D provides much more power and flexibility in defining who your character is. One of the kids, the youngest of the group, had just entered puberty. It’s a frightening and confusing time as your body and world view shifts radically without much input from you. The first character he played was hyper-masculine — a bloody, violent half-dragon who shot first and asked questions later. He was dumb as rocks and reckless, and he played this character with a gleeful, wild abandon. The second character, however, surprised me. He played a shapeshifter who often took the appearance of a female. She was shifty; she was crafty; she was subtle. She wasn’t out in the front lines like his half-dragon; she played carefully, and whenever it was advantageous, he would flaunt her sex appeal in order to get what he wanted.

Dungeons and Dragons - where one day you're playing as this guy...

Dungeons and Dragons - where one day you're playing as this guy...

Here, I believe, lies the appeal (and the helpfulness) of role playing games, whether done with dice or on the computer. Gender is an incredibly confusing subject; nerds, geeks, and gamers especially struggle with this. Most who fall into this subcategory of society are not what we would consider traditional masculine – they are generally not very assertive, they struggle to fit in with mainstream society, they are often marginalized, they are often not physically dominating, and they do not usually succeed in romantic relationships. Some people may cry foul and say I’m stereotyping, others may say I’m describing problems that everyone experiences. I would argue, however, that the minute you decide you like video games as a hobby, you move into this subset that doesn’t belong in mainstream society, and that this subtle marginalization exacerbates social problems. We don’t fit the social criteria and expectations for masculinity, but we can’t simply just change our gender. We’re stuck in some sort of gender limbo, and I would suspect that it’s more than just male gamers who float in this desolate landscape.

...and the next day you're playing this. And nobody cares.

...and the next day you're playing this. And nobody cares.

Role playing as females allows a gamer to expand his persona. in literature, women are complex — they can be the virginal maiden or the powerful femme fatale. They can create and heal, but they also can destroy. Females in fantasy genres generally fall into the magical and religious roles, but they can also play as assassins and helpless royalty, as powerful paladins or demure druids. They can do anything. But the male persona in fantasy is generally hyper-masculine, the Campbell hero archetype inflated by a hundred-fold and infused with the dreams and desires of the alpha male in a fraternity. They are generally warriors; they are generally muscular and powerful; they are usually rash and have a destiny to fulfill. There isn’t much depth to the standard fantasy male, however, and this can be stifling.

The young child in my D&D group struggling to understand what it means to be a man and his relationship with women began to act out both parts. He experienced the heady power of sexuality as a woman, but also carefully and safely explored the incredible destructive power the male stereotype in society. He acted these roles out, exaggerating the stereotypes, taking things new and possibly (probably) frightening and making them into the familiar. He ended up enjoying his shapeshifting character because it provided him the most flexibility – at any time he could shapeshift into the more masculine role when fighting broke out, but when it required the work of what he felt was a woman, he could also fill in that role. In short, he was beginning to understand that different social situations required different personas and he used role playing games to explore them. The video game industry is replete with instances of video games where you can play that hyper-competitive, hyper-violent male protagonist who blows crap up and shoots people without an inkling of remorse. But if you look for a good video game with a strong female protagonist, especially a tabula rasa-type that you can then project yourself onto, you might be able to come up with enough for each finger on one hand. If you’re lucky. So the gamer who’s already played his fill of these games naturally gravitate to the option of playing a woman, a character more complex than one who is either the paragon of paladin virtue or a cold-hearted, robotic killer.

While hilarious, the recent Old Spice commercials only reinforce the stereotypes of males in our society

While hilarious, the recent Old Spice commercials only reinforce the stereotypes of males in our society

And maybe, just maybe, I play a small, diminutive female gnome because despite the fact that she’s a warrior, she’s also an engineer and a master cook – and if I played one of those hulking males I would be afraid people would immediately begin to discount my intellect (something I value greatly) or my engineering or cooking or first aid skills, or would wonder why a hulking draenei is talking about things like motivations and backstory. A male that looks like the males in World of Warcraft just need to hit things and stop doing things like thinking. In the fantasy genre, females are allowed to be complex, but males are still considered very simple. However, I know this isn’t true when it comes to reality – I’m an incredibly complex person, and I know both James and Troy are, too (though they might be loathe to admit it). Could it be that we all play as a females because it allows us to carefully craft complex personas on the MMO medium, giving us the most flexibility to not only experience those power fantasies of killing massive dragons or slaying a mob of goblins with ease, but also the opportunity to express emotions, to level up in things besides “killing” and “more killing,” even to feel physically attractive, and still be socially accepted?

Leigh Alexander herself mentioned the difference in her game play – when she played as the male character she didn’t think twice to be ruthless and harsh, to challenge others for power and sacrifice peoples’ happiness and well-being for the greater good. But as a female, she found herself hesitating because that’s just not what women do. Maybe male gamers play as females because it allows us to be compassionate and empathic while still trying to achieve goals such as gaining more power or ability; it allows us to tap into a side of ourselves that mainstream society tells us we can’t – it allows us to break free of gender roles and explore the facets of ourselves that simply don’t coincide with the persona and expectations of the traditional, emotionally distant and hyper-competitive American male.

24 Comments

Filed under life stories, wordsmithing

Literary Song Analysis #1 – Cake – Short Skirt, Long Jacket

The first of the series, Literary Song Analysis endeavors to deconstruct popular songs, revealing deep thematic ideas representing the conflict of the modern era through pedantic, superfluous, overly academic writing and ample doses of exaggeration. The first, Cake’s legendary Short Skirt, Long Jacket, reveals the double standard placed on women in a post-feminist world, detailing the pull of career as well the pull of domesticity.

While at first glance, Cake’s popular song “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” may appear to describe the singer’s ideal woman, “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” actually details the double standard imposed upon women by men in a post-feminist environment, pressuring women to not only adhere to the “empowered woman” stereotype but also to the traditional female figure of the era prior to the advent of modern feminism. The singer, in Cake’s general ironic style, lauds the modern-day woman, but in the end reveals a desire for the traditional, domesticated female. This conflict manifests itself in the titular fashion combination of a short skirt and long jacket, transforming it into a metaphor for the double standard modern-day American society places upon its female population.

In the opening lines, Cake describes what seems to be the modern woman. She has “a mind like a diamond” and demonstrates capability at work, such as eliminating red tape and picking up slack. The woman has obvious power in her position, as she tours the facilities rather than merely working there. This girl has “uninterrupted prosperity,” “good dividends,” and “smooth liquidation,” showing financial success as well. The singer goes as far as sexualizing her. For example, she puts up her hair and plays with her jewelry, both visual cues of a woman flirting with someone or attempting to attract attention to herself in a physical manner. He also idealizes her beyond simply a tactile sense – her fingernails, he asserts, “shine like justice,” comparing an area of beauty on the female body to a desirable, abstract concept.

Therefore, many people often assume that Cake’s song “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” merely describes what many would call a modern-day, empowered woman, and that the singer praises her for her independence and competence in work and money. She wakes up early, stays up late (denoting an active social life), and is physically attractive as well. If written by any other band, this would lead to an accurate assumption, but Cake’s past songs of irony and sarcasm denote that more may be at play in this song.

Many people miss the auditory cue that demonstrates a shift in the song’s mood and message. After the third verse and second repetition of the phrase “Short Skirt, Long Jacket,” Cake plays a momentary instrumental bridge (the auditory cue for change in the song). The next verse displays a stark difference between the first three verses describing a modern-day, empowered woman, and describes someone completely different. The singer fantasizes of meeting her at Citibank (where else to meet such a powerful, wealthy woman?) and immediately subjugates her into a subservient role. They meet “when she borrows my pen,” the singer says. Immediately, she is an inferior position. She requires a simple tool (tools remaining firmly in the masculine role of the American cultural psyche), but lacks it to complete her routine tasks. She must ask the singer, a male, for help. Thus, the fantasized relationship initiates with the man firmly in control, and the singer begins to sing about a completely different person.

The singer sings immediately after the meeting that she trades in her MG for a white Chrysler LeBaron. MG is a well known British sports car manufacturer, while the Chrysler LeBaron was famous in its inception as the lowest priced car in Chrysler’s automobile line. While it evolved into a lower-priced convertible for a brief time, by the 1990s, when “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” was written, the LeBaron was known as a medium priced sedan, not nearly as luxurious or fancy as the MG the subject previously drove. The singer drives this point further reminding us that this car, rather than to show off or as a status symbol for the woman’s prosperity, simply exists to get her to places, implying the car is now used mostly for running errands. Also, the car has the hallmark of American comfort – the cup holder armrest. This car the woman now drives more closely resembles a car found in use by modern American families and in modern American suburbia, whose juxtaposition with the aforementioned MG displays a drastic shift in either the woman’s goals, attitudes, or at the very least, her luxury consumption and driving habits.

In short, the singer has, in the short space of one verse directly following their meeting in Citibank, effectively domesticated the woman. She has changed her name from Kitty, a more exotic, adventurous name, to Karen, a very common, conservative name for females. She no longer drives about in the speedy MG, but drives a simple sedan for errands. This woman contrasts sharply with the idealized image of the modern, emancipated woman the singer initially sings of, resembling more the stereotypical 1950s American suburban housewife rather than the Wall Street financial power broker mentioned in the beginning of the song (and whom many people assume this song idealizes).

And what of the short skirt/long jacket combination the singer raves about repeatedly? This phrase is obviously important enough to repeat a total of three times, with the song ending with this phrase. The titular short skirt/long jacket represents the duality and tension between the acceptable desire for a modern-day woman, and the more socially unacceptable desire for the traditional, domesticated woman. In the post-feminist age, men who desire the latter are seen as oppressive, while the men who desire the former are lauded as progressive. Women, also, are condemned for desiring to be housewives and praised for ambition in the workforce. This constant tension between two stereotypical extremes plays out in the short skirt/long jacket metaphor. The short skirt represents the emancipation of woman (womens’ rights are, generally, directly associated with rising hemline) – the woman is emancipated sexually in her choice of dress, but also in her career decisions and financial success. However, the long jacket would cover the short skirt, blocking it out.

This dichotomy represents the modern-day society’s double standard towards women. Because of the general success of the modern feminist movement in the United States, women do experience unprecedented freedom and individual prosperity, but old habits and traditions linger. Yes, women may now wear short skirts and still consider themselves socially acceptable; however, the singer allows this modern-day woman to exist, but only if she continues to cover it up with a long jacket. She may be successful and independent, but once she meets the singer (i.e., a potential mate), she must immediately place herself in a subservient role and domesticate herself, effectively covering her once symbol of independence and emancipation – the short skirt – with the long jacket of traditional feminine roles. In essence, Cake’s Short Skirt, Long Jacket represents the murky post-feminist world, idealizing what many would consider the ideal, emancipated woman, but in the end revealing an undercurrent of nostalgia for the “good old days” – the stereotypical, domesticated woman.

10 Comments

Filed under wordsmithing