Challenging the Literary Canon

After years of being assigned books to read for school, have you ever wondered why the same authors find their way onto every English teacher’s syllabus? I can still remember most of the books I was assigned in high school, throughout my years of Honors and AP English classes. As a freshman, I can recall reading Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. My sophomore English syllabus emphasized Shakespeare, Hemingway, and Victor Hugo. Junior year was my AP Language course, which consisted primarily of analyzing speeches from great men of times past, such as John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln.

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Taking It Off

For some people, arriving at home after a long day means taking off their shoes or their pants. For me, it means taking off my bra.

A couple of years ago, I could have never imagined even writing about this. In between dance and school, my closet consisted of sports bras for dance and wire bras for school. No questions asked, because in my mind wearing bras was just the way things are supposed to be. I can’t specifically remember where this idea came from, whether it came from the media or my family. As a kid I just simply understood that at a certain moment in my life I would develop breasts and as a result I would need to start wearing a bra.

Women have been wearing bras in the Western hemisphere since the Romans were around. Women would tie bands around their breasts while they would exercise. And, since then bras have been modified to fit the standards of beauty of society at the time. For over 300 years, women had to wear corsets to make their curves more defined, like an hourglass. In the last century, bras have taken another step with technology. With the invention of spandex, sports bras were invented. (Learn more: Infographic). The point is that bras have always been imposed on women. The only real purpose of the bra is to be an object of modesty, to cover something that should not be seen. (Check out this video on the evolution of the bra in the Western world.)

In college, my horizons widened. I was no longer in patriarchal Latin America, but at Emerson College, a ‘liberal’ school. And in that sense, Emerson has changed me. It has taught me about social issues I had not experienced back home, such as systematized racism, or the fight for rights for the LGBTQ+. My time in college has also taught me a lot about myself, it has been my time where I get to decide what I like and don’t like. Also, being in a  school with such individualized ideals, and unique individuals, has reminded me that I am my own person. Being my own person includes the comforts of my breasts.

The movement and film Free The Nipple have played an influence in the way I understand how woman are censored. The statement of Free the Nipple states “we stand against female oppression and censorship, both in the United States and around the globe”. Today, in the USA it is effectively ILLEGAL for a woman to be topless, breastfeeding included, in 35 states. In less tolerant places like Louisiana, an exposed nipple can take a woman to jail for up to three years and cost $2,500 in fines. Even in New York City, which legalized public toplessness in 1992, the NYPD continues to arrest women. We’re working to change these inequalities through film, social media, and a grassroots campaign.”

I believe in micro-revolutions. The idea that change comes from within, that a rebellious action can sometimes go far. That’s why I decided to ditch the bras: the push ups, the wires, the too tight sports bra. I decided I was just going to stop wearing bras that did not fit comfortably on me, even though Victoria’s Secret kept hinting at me. All the bras I had that made me feel constricted were shoved to the back end of the drawers. I bought bra-lettes. The fancy version of training bras. The first time I tried one on, it was like wearing a very comfy oversized sweater.

When as a woman, you realize that you have a responsibility of questioning the “way things are supposed to be”, you become empowered. You begin to see possibilities when there were rules before. Finding alternative options to the bra (or none at all!), has proven to be a successful rebel act for me. It’s not just about the bra, it’s about having options. It’s about owning my body. It’s about making the choices that are best for me, and that should not be mandated by society or the media.

Living in the digital age is hard. Information is overwhelming. Too many ideals of who we need to be. By taking off the bra, I have also taken off the pressure of living up to many unrealistic standards imposed on women. Now, I’m a rebel. And I love it. You should try it too. Take it off, and love your body.

An Ode to the Mustard Yellow Scarf

Fall brings a lot of changes as a season: the leaves, the chilling temperatures and more unattainably-priced fashion trends no one can afford. This year, I stepped out of my style comfort zone in one simple way: by purchasing a mustard yellow scarf.

If I were to categorize my style, I would say it’s a healthy mix of norm core and preppy: solid colored clothing, classic A-Line fits and of course, anything with stripes. Navys and grays are the extent to which the rainbow goes in my closet. I don’t even own anything pink!  (Which excludes me from participating in a lot of things, apparently.) To find a color like mustard yellow in my closet would mean I’d have some weird sort of stain or mold problem in there.

Moreover, mustard yellow as a color is gross. There is no denying this. Even the name of it sounds reprehensible. If colors had a smell, it would probably smell like an old person. Most importantly, mustard yellow looks bad on every kind of human.

Or so I thought. But all it took was a questionably cheap $3 Primark scarf to change everything: my perspective, my beliefs and, most importantly, my outfits. It’s given me my own version of a sartorial rebellion.

What I have discovered is that mustard yellow goes with anything. Even if it doesn’t! It’s one of those things that you can just loop over your head and it gives you instant artsy cred. Tastefully not matching gives people a certain mystique and this scarf does exactly that.

Yellow + Navy

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As someone who has an abundance of navy in their closet, navy is my neutral. In my eyes, it goes well with anything. This scarf goes especially well with a navy sweater because blue and yellow are on opposite sides of the color wheel.

Yellow + Green

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Not your typical mix of colors. If anyone questions it, hit ‘em with the “I’m a Packers fan” excuse.

Scarf + Shirt + Skirt

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Wearing a scarf to keep you warm whilst wearing a skirt with your exposed legs might not be weather sensible, but it looks cute. It’s also a great way to mix up the shirt + skirt combo.

Of course, I’m not trying to get everyone in the world to go to their nearest department store and buy heaps of scarves. Everyone has their own version of a mustard yellow scarf. An article of clothing, an accessory or makeup that doesn’t exactly fall within our style parameters. Stepping out of your style comfort zone can be a good thing. Especially if part of the reason you’re staying inside is due to a lack of confidence; whether you can ‘pull something off’ or not.

It’s hard to wear what we like because we’ve developed rules for what we can and cannot wear. So many women are conditioned to believe there are places we can’t go stylistically because of our skin, our weight or any negative aspect of our appearance. So maybe red lipstick isn’t a ‘recommended’ shade for your skin. Do you like it? Wear it! It doesn’t matter if you have the correct undertones for it, or whatever new jargon the fashion industry uses to make you hate yourself. If something brings you joy, let it. It sounds like a simple philosophy, but it can be hard to follow.

Fashion can be incredibly exclusive to anyone who doesn’t adhere to the ‘right’ set of standards. As an ideal, fashion should be a true expression of self. Even if it goes against what you’re taught. Sometimes, going against the grain can be as simple as buying a $3 scarf.

“The Perfect Dictatorship:” Finding Truth in the Media

On September 26, 2014, 43 students disappeared in Ayotzinapa, México. A year later, there is still no definite answer as to what happened to these students. An investigation and report was released recently, which stated that the students were murdered by the violent group Guerreros Unidos. Yet, the parents of the missing students refuse to believe it. What is true to them is that their sons are missing and that justice won’t be served.

Tragic news stories like the one described above have always found a way to inspire filmmakers. Picture this: A governor accepts money from a narco. The event is caught on tape and sent to the local television channel. The story blows up. The governor approaches the tv channel. They accept a sum of money in order to remake the governor’s image. This is the plot of the Mexican movie, The Perfect Dictatorship.

The film is a satire with the objective of criticizing the corruption of the Mexican government and media. The story moves on from there, to demonstrate several different cases of how information is handled and framed by the media. In this case, the media is trying to make the people forget about the corruption of the governor and even propose him as a candidate for presidency.

The point of the story is to demonstrate how much influence the media can have on the political affairs of a country. The director and writer, Luis Estrada, claims that he drew on current events for the plot of the movie. There was no need to look far, when the real drama had been happening all along.

The movie puts the workings of a government into perspective. It’s no secret that the Mexican government is corrupt. But, what the movie is trying to highlight is the power of money and how money can corrupt even those who are supposed to stand by the people. The Perfect Dictatorship shows how the media is no longer a source of truth and empowerment for the people, but simply a tool used by those in power. This is a huge deal in a country like Mexico, where there is a growing gap between rich and poor. The poor have limited educational resources and will believe what they see in TV. Hence, the narratives of the media become truth to the people and power machines for the rich.

One of my favorite things I learned from the movie is the Chinese Box (La Caja China) tactic. The idea is that when there is a main story that is getting attention, but you don’t want it to (in the case of the movie, the corruption of the governor) you find another story that will distract attention and will be put into the headlines instead. Ha! Sounds like something that seems to happen in the news a lot and everywhere.

The case of the 43 students has been one of the most heard and talked about worldwide. Sadly, this type of violence occurs everyday in Mexico. We don’t hear much about it. Well, at least not through the media.  

Although the Perfect Dictatorship seems to be showing an exaggerated account of how things occur, it does not seem to be too far from the truth. What happened to the 43 students? There is still not a truthful answer and only the heart-broken mothers and fathers of the students are still looking for justice. The public has forgotten and has instead been fed stories that the media has decided are more relevant.

I hope the families of the students find peace soon. I hope justice is served. Looking at a case like this, it seems as though all hope is lost. But then, I think about the film. I am reminded that there are ways to push truth forward through art. If the media won’t stand by the truth, then something else must. So, as witnesses to violence we must not stay silent. We must create, we must ask questions, we must write, and sing, and paint and yell until our voices are heard. Because a perfect dictatorship can only happen if we allow it. 

Finding Inspiration in Mad Men

By: Alexis Clemons

The television show Mad Men only has a few episodes left before its series finale and I’ve been feeling very sentimental. As a Marketing Communications major at Emerson, I enjoy watching a show that’s centered on my favorite subject. However, Mad Men seems to have a stigma around it in the academic marketing world. I can clearly remember the first day of my Intro to Marketing Comm. class, the professor asked us all, “So how many of you are here because you’ve seen the show Mad Men?”. We all glanced around nervously. Several students raised their hands with sheepish smiles on their faces. “Well, let me remind you that Mad Men is a fictional show. Don’t be fooled by its glamour. We’re here to learn what real marketing is,” my professor replied.

He went on to admit to liking the show himself and I’ve found this to be true among most people who warn against taking Mad Men as fact. It’s hard to deny the quality of the show, yet it’s easy to scold young people against idolizing the world of Sterling Cooper. Personally, I think that students should be encouraged to be inspired by shows like Mad Men and the reality series The Pitch. Seeing their future occupations on TV can inspire marketing and advertising students and influence them in ways that real life isn’t always able to.

I didn’t decide on my major until I was a senior in high school. Previously I had considered a degree in marine biology, teaching and psychology. I didn’t want to go into college undeclared so I eventually landed on marketing. I took one class at the high school level and performed well enough to want to pursue it. I liked the idea of marketing, but I wasn’t passionate about it. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that one night, while sitting in my dorm room, I decided to start watching the show Mad Men.

I was looking for a new show to start and with the wide world of Netflix at my disposal, I decided to see for myself what my dad, a longtime viewer, and many other fans had been talking so highly about. I quickly became obsessed. I fell in love with the characters, the historical accuracy, the storylines, and surprisingly, the work. As a student who seemed to like her major so far but wasn’t totally invested, it really propelled my interest in the world of advertising.

I loved the work that the characters got to do at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and I could suddenly see myself doing that work as well. I didn’t want to be those characters necessarily, but I was certainly inspired by what they did. I never had the opportunity to see a pitch or a client meeting in real life, and seeing it on Mad Men gave me a better understanding of what marketing and advertising professionals do. I know the world of advertising and marketing has changed drastically since the 60’s, but the show still inspired me because it gave me a glimpse of the profession I was pursuing in a glitzy, glamorous, televised way.

As long as you don’t take it as complete fact, there is no harm in enjoying the world of Mad Men. The show takes place 50 years in the past and is certainly over dramatized, but as long as you remember those facts then it seems reasonable to be inspired by what they do. The character Peggy Olsen has been a huge inspiration to me. Her determination, her creativity and her passion are all traits I aspire to have and bring to my own work. I may not be faced with breaking the glass ceiling like she had to, but the way in which she’s unafraid to speak up and refuses to be pressured by her mostly male competitors is something to look up to. Her growth from quiet secretary to head Copy Chief is immensely enjoyable to watch and I will continue to list Peggy as a personal role model.

So I ask, what’s wrong with wanting to be the next Don Draper? (That is, as long as you aspire to be him in regards to his creative and leadership talents and not his ahem other traits). Being inspired by brave, creative, or intelligent characters can be traced back to the early days of storytelling. Why should being inspired by television characters be any different? Be inspired by anything you find inspiring and Mad Men is no exception!

Interested in being a guest blogger for Atlas Online? Send your pitch to emersonatlasmag@gmail.com!

Wanted: Well-Written Female Characters

What do women want? Well, here’s one answer to that age old question: well-written female characters on TV.

Today’s television shows seem to splattered with female characters who are usually either underdeveloped or fit within the constraints of a trope. Often they follow two distinct tropes: the admired, ambitious career woman or the modern damsel-in-distress whose identity is shaped entirely around male characters. They either represent the ultra feminine or embody traditionally masculine traits, with few female characters possessing traits from both sides. Modern media, especially in television, seems to have come to the conclusion that well-developed female characters must be rich, aggressive career women who do it all while still maintaining a fabulously fashionable wardrobe. When the reality is that a well-developed female character is not confined to a particular set of personality traits or tropes, instead she is simply a character who is well-developed and well-written.

When Scandal‘s Olivia Pope walks into a room, she commands a presence through her charisma, ambition and aggression. She possesses traits that are considered traditionally masculine, which at times is valued more than if her character was more traditionally feminine.  While Olivia Pope is a well-written character and one of TV’s most interesting protagonists, she is not the sole type of strong female character. Most of the strong female characters portrayed on TV usually fit into a very specific formula: well-educated, wealthy and possessing a powerful career. Additionally, most of them live in major U.S. cities such as New York or Washington D.C. It’s rare to see a female character, who is branded as strong, stray away from this mold. Unfortunately, we cannot all be crisis managers like Olivia Pope, yet TV seems to be under the impression that the only way for a woman to be “strong” is to emulate characters like her.

The reality is that most women do not live a glamorous life like Olivia Pope, and while many women still find her to be a relatable character, she is hardly an accurate representation of the majority of American women. While it’s hard to find a well-written female character who doesn’t fall into the powerful career women archetype, there are shows that are challenging these norms. Sheila Jackson on Showtime’s Shameless is a great example of a well-written female character whose story arch isn’t related to a man or an office. Her story arch is set in South side Chicago where she is part of a blue collar, working class family. Through the course of the show’s five seasons, her character struggles with agoraphobia and finding independence from her family. Challenges of mental illness and separating oneself from family life are every day struggles that women across America face, making her, in my opinion, a more relatable character than Olivia Pope.

Additionally, she is a compassionate caretaker for both her family and neighbors. She values having a perfect home and cooking for her loved ones but she is never trivialized for these qualities.  One of the aspects I admire most about her story line is that when her character departed from the show, her story line did not come to an abrupt end. Instead, she finally leaves behind the toxic people around her and overcomes her agoraphobia to embark on a road trip. I think it’s one of television’s best examples of a traditionally feminine female character who is given a complete story arch.

People want to see an aspect of themselves reflected in the television characters they see daily. We can’t all be top lawyers and political powerhouses, yet the media seems to believe that the average woman is supposed to find these women relatable. It’s about time that this changes.  While I strongly believe female characters in positions of power and prestige should continue to be a vital part of our media, it’s important to remember that women face obstacles outside of their offices.

Aside from being well-developed and having a complete story arch, there is no set formula for creating a strong female character. Although we still need characters like Olivia Pope for women to look to for escapism and inspiration, we also need characters like Sheila Jackson whose lives and stories are more obtainable for women. Ultimately, television should strive to create a variety of well-written female characters, who go beyond predetermined tropes, because there isn’t just one definition of what it means to be a strong woman.

A Not So Basic Dilemma

I’ll admit it, I’ve been guilty of using the “b” word myself, probably not the one you’re thinking of, but you have most likely used them together. I’m talking about the word basic, which these days seems to have more stigma around it than other notorious slang words. With it’s growing popularity, I can’t help but think the word “basic” is degrading towards women and I’d even go as far as to say it’s anti-feminist.

I own a pair of Ugg boots; am I basic enough yet? Am I any less of a well-rounded, semi-contributing member of society based on my footwear choices or have you already written me off into a stereotype? I went to high school with a sea of girls dressed in black North Face jackets, black leggings and (the now famous) Ugg boots. I’ll be the first to admit that as a naive and shallow high schooler, I was not so secretly judging all of them. For some arbitrary reason, I thought that by resisting the unofficial dress code and wearing my bright green pea coat, I was a better person than them. Honestly, the fact that I was judging them solely based on their outfit preference in zero degree weather made me the one lacking depth. Looking back on my 15-year-old self, I probably missed out on getting to know a lot of kind and interesting people, because I categorized them based on their clothing choices.

One day I caved and bought a pair of Ugg Boots; it was winter in New Hampshire, after all. I wore them fearfully, thinking that the very act of wearing them would somehow drastically alter my personality. Would I start craving Frappuccinos? Would I become a basic? In case you were wondering, I didn’t. In fact, nothing changed except the fact that my feet were warmer. If you asked me why I had this strange and illogical fear, my answer would be simple: the media.

The media already tries to simplify women down to two or so easy-to-understand archetypes in almost all narratives and I’d argue that it is causing women to see themselves as such. In male-centric media, women are either the cool girl or the basic. The cool girl is usually the quirky or edgy, one-dimensional character who dismisses the traditionally feminine in favor of more masculine selections. On the other hand, the basic embraces typically feminine things, and as a result, is far too uninteresting to be worth the male protagonist’s time. The cool girl archetype is supposed to be every man’s fantasy, while the basic is the woman who he is encouraged by the media to dismiss.

With the media and society already trying to categorize women and girls into easy-to-process, but very stereotypical archetypes, I find it absurd that now it’s a trend to put other women down in the form of declaring them basic. By calling each other basic, we are just reinforcing the idea that women can fit into distinct categories based solely on their clothing choices or overall buying habits. I’m not saying every feminist should run out and smash the literal patriarchy in the media, but we could at least try not to place these ridiculous characterizations upon the women in our lives. We are being taught that masculine things are better and everything traditionally feminine is too simplistic to be worthwhile. Women are pressured to maintain an always cool persona, then if they do not live up to this standard, they are written off as basic.

Recently, Gap launched a “Dress Normal” clothing campaign, encouraging consumers to keep their clothes simple. Attending an artsy college, I heard and saw lots of outrage over this campaign, slandering it for it’s use if the word “normal” and encouraging people to be boring, or worse, basic.

For me, this campaign was not an attack on individuality or hipster culture, but rather, a message to people (mainly women) that it is okay to dress for simplicity or practicality. Getting dressed every morning doesn’t have to be about crafting an outfit that’s like a piece of art; at least, not if you don’t want it to be. While I’m fan of clothes being a form of expression, they should be a reflection of your personality, not a definition of who you are. Frankly, if your clothes are the most interesting thing about you, I think you are buying into the idea that their products define you and, more importantly, selling yourself short!

It is important to remember that clothes are just products. My favorite ad in this campaign featured the slogan: “A simple jacket for you to complicate.” This can serve as a reminder that your uniqueness comes from within and no piece of clothing or product can make you basic.

If society is heading towards a future that categorizes people’s personalities as interesting or basic based on their clothing choices, I worry for the shallowness that lies ahead. At the end of the day, feminism is all about freedom of choices for both women and men. This includes the choice to embrace the traditionally feminine, masculine, or even both. It’s important that people, particularly young women, stop using the phrase basic to describe each other and the time to start working on this is now. So when you hear a guy or a girl describe someone as so basic, remind them that the only thing basic is to judge someone based upon their Ugg boots and North Face.