Jackson Katz, an educator and leader in gender violence prevention (www.jacksonkatz.com), spoke at our campus last week to a full auditorium. Like many faculty, I use his videos on media portrayals of masculinity to help students consider what it means to “be a man” in this culture. His examples from hip-hop, recent events in the NFL, and popular film depict glorified images of hyper-masculine men characterized by aggressive, demeaning, often violent behavior, especially towards women.
His message hit close to home when after the lecture a student explained to me that a fraternity was planning to host a “G.I. Joes and Army Hoes” party. Yes, that’s right – dressing up like a testosterone-crazed Rambo and a “whore” in camouflage is considered entertainment. So much for 200,000 years of human evolution. This is fraught with so many layers of gender stereotypes, exploitation, sexual and personal insecurities, dysfunctional notions of intimate relationships, and heteronormativity, it’s hard to know where to begin.
A quick search on the internet turned up 74,100 results for “G.I. Joes and Army Hoes Costume Ideas” including endless party pics and posters for events at bars (see above), indicating a popularity beyond campuses. At collegepartyguru.com it states,
“Most people have the utmost respect for military personnel and like to do what they can to show their respect. Others simply like the clothing they wear and the thought of being able to carry a fully automatic rifle without any legal repercussions. With the GI Joe and Army Hoes party, you’ll get the chance to both honor the country’s military forces and dress yourself up in the military attire of your choice.”
“Hoe” is slang for “whore.” But what exactly does that mean? According to urbandictionary.com, she is,
“A woman that sleeps with everyone but YOU!!!!!” Followed by, “SEE: SLUT – A woman that sleeps with everyone.”
In other definitions, whore is equated with prostitute. It is beyond the scope of this blog but both of these terms deserve, and have received, much critical scrutiny as they are offensive and derogatory to people who are in fact, sex workers. There is a difference.
According to collegepartyguru.com, this is what the Army Hoe should wear.
“Let’s start with the Army hoes, since they can have all the fun they want with this. Costume shops all over the internet sell variations on all walks of military uniforms. From two-piece camo-designed skirt and tops to a more dress-like variation on any military uniform (complete with plenty of cleavage), the possibilities seem endless…. Since you want to honor your military in the best way, you may want to go with something as slutty and as revealing as possible.”
I wondered what the US Army would have to say, especially given recent revelations about the extent of sexual assault in the military and their own disconnect between stated values and actual behavior. According to their Sexual Harassment, Assault Response and Prevention website (http://www.sexualassault.army.mil) and their I. A.M. Strong campaign, a soldier must do the following:
“When I recognize a threat to my fellow Soldiers, I will have the personal courage to INTERVENE and prevent sexual assault. I will condemn acts of sexual harassment. I will not abide obscene gestures, language, or behavior. I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I will INTERVENE.
You are my brother, my sister, my fellow Soldier. It is my duty to stand up for you, no matter the time or place. I will take ACTION. I will do what’s right. I will prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault. I will not tolerate sexually offensive behavior. I will ACT.
We are American Soldiers, MOTIVATED to keep our fellow Soldiers safe. It is our mission to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault. We will denounce sexual misconduct. As Soldiers, we are all MOTIVATED to take action. We are strongest…together.”
So much for G.I. Joes and Army Hoes as an honorable and respectful tribute to the US military.
What’s going on here? Why this theme? How is this fun? I posed these questions to my 300-level Human Development and Family Studies class the next day. Here’s what came out of our discussion:
1) The concept of G.I. Joes and Whores represents heterosexual gender norm extremes that feel edgy and risqué (maybe rebellious?) but are exploitative and objectify both men and women.
2) Men and women are socially awkward and need gimmicks such as themed parties with alcohol in order to interact. Dressing up will potentially draw desired attention from the opposite and same sex but drunkenness increases the likelihood of sexual harassment and assault.
3) Performing the “whore” provides women with a false sense of power over men if her attractiveness enables her to refuse or accept the advances of males.
4) Dressing like GI Joe is an excuse to take on a physically aggressive (perhaps homoerotic?), tough-guy stance toward other men and a sexually aggressive persona towards women.
5) In a culture of repressed sexuality (i.e., sex is everywhere, sex sells, be sexy, but don’t have casual and/or premarital sex), performing the stereotypical whore enables young women to rebel against the “good girl” gender script and exert some other aspect of her sexual self.
This analysis is not exhaustive. Our class was only 75 minutes. But it provides a window into quite dysfunctional cultural attitudes regarding sexuality and gender as represented here by hyper-masculine men and overtly sexualized women, both ironically devoid of anything honorable. Our class discussion, however, is proof that engaging students on these topics leads to critical analysis and perhaps introspection. In fact, campus administrators spoke with greek-life student leaders about the upcoming party, drawing on the messages of Jackson Katz. After that meeting, and on their own accord, the students cancelled the event.