Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
From Twilight to Maxim, guest speaker Latoya Peterson led Swarthmore students through a deep analysis of our media culture and the misguided messages it sends consumers about race, gender, sex, power, and control.
Swarthmore Feminists, with special efforts from Lisa Sendrow ’13, organized and fundraised in order to bring Peterson to Swarthmore on November 22nd. Peterson, a powerful voice in feminist and racial equality movements, uses her passion for pop culture as a tool to address difficult topics such as rape, racism and homophobia. Her thoughts on these topics have been quoted in The Boston Globe, CNN, The New York Times and Newsweek. She is famous in the blogosphere for her work in Racialicious and Jezebel, as well as countless other online forums. She has written multiple essays featured in the anthologies Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape and Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism.
Peterson began her presentation by explaining to Swatties her passion for “hip-hop feminism.” She emphasized the need for what Joan Morgan once coined “a feminism that fucks with the grays”: a type of feminism that intersects racial and class boundaries to address issues of female-identified individuals of all spectrums. She used examples from the mainstream media, explaining how women of color are excluded from roles in everything from porn to romantic comedies. According to Peterson, consumers should remember that victories within the feminist movement are not necessarily victories for all women.
Peterson explained that the messages we receive in the media reinforce disturbing notions of what is “normal” in interactions between members of different genders and race. She said these images contribute to racism, homophobia and rape culture. Swarthmore Feminists member Alexander Noyes ’15 agreed. “Pop culture by definition is what our society is entrenched in,” said Noyes. “It both reflects our society and influences it. It is important that we understand the media’s grasp and what effect it has on our society.”
Peterson concluded her presentation by discussing solutions for building solidarity within movements and addressing societal issues that are influenced by the media. She encouraged students to tackle these issues from the ground up through their daily interactions. She said that if people speak up and lead conversations regarding these issues, there is hope for social change. When asked what she most hoped Swatties would take away from her presentation, she stated simply, “That systems can be changed.”
“Latoya introduced a diverse view point,” says Eleanor Pratt ’14, a member of Swarthmore Feminists. “I loved her use of the media because it created an approachable forum where everyone, whether they identify as a feminist or not, could appreciate what she had to say.”