Beverly Yuen Thompson

Beverly Yuen Thompson

Beverly Yuen Thompson is an Associate Professor and Chair of Sociology at Siena College. Her research focuses on subcultures, deviance, and the body.

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Hugh Hefner and the Feminist Sex Wars

In this post, Beverly Yuen Thompson looks at the significance of Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy Magazine, in light of his recent passing. He introduced and marketed a magazine of nude women, literary articles, and interviews with cultural icons to the American mainstream man. The feminist movement responded to Playboy, and pornography in general, in what came to be called “the sex wars,” arguing many different sides on women, sexuality, and representation.  

On September 27, 2017, Hugh Hefner, creator of Playboy Magazine, died in his Playboy Mansion, near Beverly Hills, California, at age 91.

Playboy Empire

Hugh Hefner
In the post-WWII 1950s, Hugh Hefner detoured from the traditional life in which he was raised. His parents were strict Methodists. He joined the army, married the woman he lost his virginity to, had two children, and worked as a journalist. But, he wondered, is this all there is? He asked his conservative bookkeeper father for a loan to start a men’s magazine and explained his vision—not just nude women, it would have literary essays and interviews with cultural icons, but his father turned him down as a bad investment. However, his mother took him aside, and said she would loan him $1,000 from the money she had made as a worker during the war (when women were recruited to replace male workers, i.e. Rosie the Riveter). With $8,000 total collected from various places, Hefner was able to publish the first edition of his magazine in 1953, at age twenty-seven, and it sold 52,000 copies. In 1959, he and his first wife divorced and he began his life as the playboy that he promoted in his magazine.

Hefner did not invent the nudie magazine, but was a successful marketer, selling a conspicuous consumption lifestyle of the conceived of playboy image based on the male ego—Hefner’s ego—hosting parting with exciting people in fancy apartments, dressed in the right clothes, and surrounded by many beautiful objects, including women who appeared straight from the 1930s films on which Hefner grew up. Women’s bodies became an object that he could package and sell for his profit, while not adequately compensating their labor or humanity.

At the magazine’s peak, it sold 7 million copies. The backlash of the 1980s and the rise of widespread pornography lead to a decline for the Playboy Magazine, which always tried to distinguish itself by including writing by contemporary authors, interviews with notable historical figures, and artfully done nude photographs of women.

Gloria Steinem, Undercover Bunny

In 1963, journalist Gloria Steinem went undercover for Show Magazine for which she applied to become a bunny in the New York Playboy Club and wrote about the process in a two-piece expose series. She used her grandmother’s name Marie Ochs and went through the process of being sized up by women managers who would decide if she had the right body, appearance, and docile personality to make it as a drink-and-food server in the club for the lunch and dinner crowds of men, and occasionally, their girlfriends and wives. The ad promised women $300 a week and an entry into a glamorous lifestyle. However, the reality was more one of unfair labor practices, sexual harassment, and low pay. Steinem went on to become a leader in the 1970s feminist movement and challenged the sexism inherent in how women were treated in all levels of their work and personal lives—including such objectification of women’s bodies in media. This journalist stunt would be a landmark occasion in her career as a journalist and a feminist activist….

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Kate Millett and Second Wave Feminism

In this post, Beverly Yuen Thompson looks at the significance of the recently deceased author Kate Millett’s impact on second wave feminism with her popular book, Sexual Politics (1970), Millett popularized the concept of patriarchy by using a personal understanding of everyday gender relations and literary representation.

On September 6, 2017, feminist author Kate Millett passed away at age 82 while on a celebratory birthday trip in Paris, away from their New York City home, with her wife, Sophie Keir. Millett was most-known for her PhD dissertation, which was later published as the popular book Sexual Politics. This book became a center-stone for the second wave feminist movement of the 1970s. In it, she critiqued the patriarchal representations in the literary works of authors such as Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, and D. H. Lawrence, as well as the imbalance of power in everyday mixed-gender interactions.

Popularizing ‘Patriarchy’

Her book popularized the concept of patriarchy, which is a system of institutional and social power that is passed down through men, systems where men or their interests routinely hold power, or a social order based on male lines of family descent. Millett argued that interactions between men and women, especially those around family relations, were inherently patriarchal, and benefitted men’s power in the household over women. Such inequalities are present in a couple’s interactions, from men earning more money, to women burdened with the majority of the child and house care. More equal relationships could be found if women were partners with each other, as lovers and comrades.

Sexuality represented another division in the feminist movement, popularized by the slogan “feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice.” Millett published her book Sita in 1977, which was a personal memoir about a female lover and her exploration of her own sexuality. Her writing also explored her own mental health issues, such as her book The Loony-Bin Trip in 1990, which dealt with her bipolar diagnosis. This book also shows how institutional discrimination has historically been used in labeling women mentally ill, especially those who fought for their independence and equality….

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Fifty Years of Outsiders

Using Howard Becker’s labeling theory, Beverly Yuen Thompson combines a sociological analysis of the literary novel The Outsiders, about rivaling youth subcultures, on the eve of the book’s fiftieth anniversary.

On April 24th, 1967, S. E. Hinton published the coming-of-age novel The Outsiders, when only eighteen herself. The publisher had her use initials so as to disguise the gender of the author of a male-centric, gang-oriented novel, so as not to discourage the target audience of teenage boys and male reviewers. This was not uncommon practice at the time, in a literary-world decidedly male-oriented. Against the backdrop of the mid-1960s in Tulsa, Oklahoma, The Outsiders takes the perspective of members of the under-dog gang the “greasers”, as they engage in various rumbles with their arch-enemy, the “socs,” or the well-off, white, athletic students who dominate the social hierarchy of the high school. The esteemed movie director Francis Ford Coppola directed both the 1983 movie, and a 1990 television series adaption of The Outsiders, thus maintaining the story’s resonance for new generations.

Both the novel and the film present a bleak picture of American society in the mid 1960s, which, retrospectively, can be viewed as an anecdote to the baby boomer nostalgia of other renderings of the period in television shows such as Happy Days (1974-1984), Laverne and Shirley (1976-1983) and George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973).  Here we encounter an America of broken homes, where parents are strangely invisible or absent and where the young people wantonly roam the streets. So much of The Outsiders is about boundaries, both real and symbolic. The landscape is divided by fences and train lines, but it is the imagined and real lines of class, gender and age which present us with a divided middle America. And it is not hard to imagine in a time of wall building, that the young protagonists, now aged and retired, of the The Outsiders came to form the fodder of more recent political battles between elitism and populism….

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“Chick Tattoos” & Gender Performance

In this essay, Beverly Yuen Thompson talks about how more women than ever are now getting tattooed. Women who collect many tattoos may go against popular ideas of expected feminine behavior, and therefore can be subjected to public social sanction.

Photo of Bird and Butterly Tattoo

According to a recent Harris Poll (2016), more people than ever are getting tattooed, and the largest increase has been among women. Many people do not first think of women when we think about tattoos, because the practice has historically been associated with hyper-masculine subcultures such as bikers, gang members, and athletes. Therefore, for women, becoming a tattoo collector is wrapped up in the idea of a particular gender performance that may be at odds with what is traditionally thought of as feminine. While women may collect tattoos that are small, cute, and hidden, to accentuate their feminine performance, tattoos that are outside of these parameters may cause social backlash. Some heavily tattooed women have reported that strangers on the street may grab at their tattoos, or say things such as, “you’re such a pretty girl, why would you do that to yourself?” This brings up an important sociological question: what does having tattoos have to do with one’s gender or attractiveness?

Troubling Gender

Philosopher Judith Butler is well known for her books Gender Trouble (1990) and Bodies That Matter (1993) where she challenges a purely biological basis for gender, and instead, argues that gender is based on performativity or behavior. For example, think of the ways in which men and women take up space differently with their bodies and voices. When you think of loud voices at the gym—are they male or female? The idea of “man-spreading” has been talked about lately—a man with his legs spread wide, taking up excessive space on the subway train, while others are delegated to stand. This contrasts with how women are trained to keep their legs tightly pressed together, especially when wearing a skirt.

Butler argues that gender is far more complex than the simplistic notion of “sex versus gender” as a parallel to “body versus culture.” Nearly all behaviors are filtered through a gendered performativity, and the body itself is physically entwined with material culture. Silicone implants are placed inside women’s breasts to achieve a hyper-feminine ideal, even at the expense of women losing sensation and physical pleasure through the surgery. Gender performance is not simple a question of hairstyles and clothing, but present in everything we do….

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As Marijuana Becomes Legal, The Legacy of Structural Racism Still Haunts Many

In this essay, Beverly Yuen Thompson describes the structural racism created by the War on Drugs era and shows how the racial inequality it created may continue to disproportionately oppress people of color in the emerging legal marijuana economy.

While the 2016 U.S. presidential election will be remembered by history for the shocking election of Donald Trump for president, it should also be remembered for the 8 states that voted to legalize marijuana for adult and medical use. Continuing the trajectory established by the previous two elections, marijuana legalization increased its momentum by passing eight of the nine initiatives put forth. Medical marijuana became legal in Montana, North Dakota, Arkansas, and Florida, bringing the national total to twenty-eight states (plus Washington D.C.). Four states legalized marijuana for adult-use: California, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine, doubling the total to eight states nationally. Only one state rejected an adult-use legalization measure: Arizona. However, after this election multiple questions surrounding legalization remain. For instance, what will be done for individuals previously convicted or currently imprisoned on marijuana charges. Furthermore, how will our legal system treat felons seeking employment in this now legal industry?

The New Jim Crow and Structural Racism

“After 40 years of impoverished black men getting prison time for selling weed, white men are planning to get rich doing the same things. So, that’s why I think we have to start talking about reparations for the war on drugs. How do we repair the harms caused?”

–Michelle Alexander (2014)

Jim Crow laws enforced continued segregation of African Americans from white Americans in places such as public schools, restaurants, hotels, and rest rooms, after the Reconstruction period, and lasted until they were challenged in the mid–1960s by the Civil Rights Movement. Michelle Alexander points out in her book The New Jim Crow, that the drug war has been overwhelmingly oriented towards disenfranchising Black Americans convicted of possessing narcotics.

Jim Crow laws and the “War on Drugs” demonstrate how structural racism is enacted. While we may think of racism as an individual’s biased perception of other people, structural racism demonstrates that institutions themselves can uphold racism, such as segregated public places or discrimination against those seeking home mortgages. A modern example of structural racism can be found in the “good moral character” clause that bars many people of color from the legal marijuana industry….

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