BY KRISTEN KELLEHER
If you’ve ever wanted to watch Chris Rock ask the Rev. Al Sharpton about his hair relaxing treatments, then the University of Mary Washington’s Women’s History Month will not disappoint you.
“Good Hair,” a documentary produced by Chris Rock about cultural perceptions of African American hair, will be screened on campus March 31 as part of UMW’s month long effort to celebrate Women’s History Month.
Also on the itinerary are events like the Black Student Association Fashion Show, a Forum on Undergraduate Research in Women’s Studies, and popular performances of The Vagina Monologues. The events are all centered on the theme “either you’re in or you’re out,” taken from the reality TV series “America’s Next Top Model.”
“On the surface, a theme that is reminiscent of popular cultural and television reality shows such as “America’s Next Top Model” seems simply fun and perhaps even superficial,” said Kristin Marsh, an associate professor of sociology and UMW co-chair of Women’s History Month. “But popular culture is one arena through which we see cultural representations reflective of hierarchies of class, race, sexual orientation. Several events this month remind us of the racism, classism and sexism in culturally dominant definitions of femininity and worth.”
Jessica Kilday showcased the relevancy of this sort of media influence in her presentation for the women’s studies research forum, “Feuding the Fairtytale, the Contention between Women’s Lib and Prescribed Femininity in the Free Lance-Star, 1967-1973,” which paralleled the effects of the 1960s and 1970s women’s liberation movement with articles from the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.
Other student presenters have also taken creative approaches to show media influence on consumers like Laura Pilati and Stephanie Combs’ “The Costs to be Beautiful: Personal Care Products and How They Transform Our Minds and Bodies.”
The March 15 workshop stressed the importance of being an informed consumer, and reviewed ways to become more aware of ingredients found in products like soaps, shampoos and lotions, and the misleading impressions these advertisements can give consumers.
“There’s a huge culture of trust in businesses” Pilati said. “It’s a presentation to empower women, to empower the role of how you can make your own choices.”
“The Costs to be Beautiful” also is working to collect donations for the Pads4Girls campaign, which donates feminine hygiene products to young girls and women in Africa, where these supplies are scarce and often cause women to miss school or work.
A raffle will be held on Tuesday, March 23 and Thursday, March 25 in the Eagle’s Nest, and all of the proceeds from donations will be given to the Pads4Girls campaign.
In “Pricing Beauty: The Making of Fashion Model,” former model Ashley Mears encouraged her audience to become more skeptical of media advertisements, and prompted them to ask questions about the fashion industry’s approach to race, body image and how they became what they are today.
Mears, the keynote lecturer and a sociology professor from Boston University, gave a presentation on March 18 detailing her dissertation research working as a model in London and New York and attempting to discover why the editorial fashion industry hired so few models of color.
“Cultural change happens slowly,” Mears said, “you see even today with Michele Obama, she’s really been picked apart physically by the media…colored women are subject to a level of scrutiny that others aren’t.”
For the final weeks of March, Women’s History Month will be hosting a March 24 screening of the documentary “America the Beautiful,” with a discussion by Assistant Dean of Academic Services Elizabeth Searcy to follow the film.
Searcy describes the film as emotional and surprising, noting that she was surprised by “the assertion that since 1977, any medical doctors can practice plastic surgery. Also, Roberts [the writer and director of the documentary] draws a correlation between women gaining the right to vote and the Miss America pageant. There are just so many layers to this discussion.”
Lecturer Caroline Weber will deliver a speech about the life of Marie Antoinette on March 25, and on March 26, Ann Malinowsky will perform in 36:24:36.
The keynote performance addresses issues of body image and eating disorders, and is based on the real-life experiences of the eight writers of the play. Chris Rock’s documentary, “Good Hair,” will be the final event for UMW’s Women’s History Month on March 31.