7 Modern Social Issues That Are Older Than You Think
Now that Smashing Pumpkins lead singer Billy Corgan has conclusively and inexplicably proven that social justice warriors and the KKK are equally evil, you might be tempted to think that the age of advocating for socially progressive policies is over.
The truth is that Corgan probably hasn't picked up a history book in a while. If he did, he'd know that most of today's hot-button topics have been on the table way longer than his attention span can handle ...
We've Been Obsessing Over Black Women's Butts Since 1810
When Kim Kardashian "broke the internet" with her champagne-and-booty-poppin' photo shoot, people were quick to point out (NSFW) that the celebutante's pose was ripped from a 1978 photo collection called Jungle Fever, because fuck subtlety.
The series fetishized the black models' bodies, particularly their rear ends, implying that objectification and violation were acceptable things to do to African-American women. From the way this article has been going, you've probably guessed that this specific form of racism dates back even further than the '70s. In the 1800s, Saartjie Baartman was essentially a freak show exhibition. Nicknamed the Hottentot Venus, Baartman was gawked at on account of her large backside.
"My lord, Rebecca. Gaze upon her posterior."
On account of this being the 1800s, though, Baartman was also subjected to humiliation and sexual abuse until she sadly died (NSFW) of venereal disease at 25. So maaaybe Kardashian's magazine cover isn't the most offensive moment in the history of this pose?
We've Been Debating Gender-Neutral Pronouns Since The 1800s
Gender-neutral folks aren't a new thing, but as more and more people find the courage to speak out about their preferences and alignments, we find ourselves considering alternatives to choosing between the binaries of "he" and "she." The surprising thing is that we've been working on that elusive pronoun for over 150 years.
Long before everyone hashed out Caitlyn Jenner's pronoun switch in their heads, grammar nerds were already on the case. Not because gender transition was an everyday topic of conversation in the 1800s, but because the English language sucks at pronouns. Unless you explicitly reference the gender of a person you're talking about, you're forced to use "he or she" or "they" later in the sentence. "He or she" is clunky, and "they" is inaccurate, unless the person cloned himself or herself before you finished your sentence. You can see why grammarians have got their panties or man-panties in a knot.
According to linguistics professor Dennis Baron, as early as the 1850s, someone was asking for a gender-neutral substitute. The writer adorably asked for grammar makers to "fish us one," as if A) There is such a thing as a grammar maker and B) He or she fishes words from a word pond.
"You're lucky we don't drown you in the word pond for writing 'be got over.'"
By the 1880s, the calls for a new pronoun weren't just frequent -- they were desperate. Among the suggestions were ip, ne, nis, hiser, thon, hi, hes, hem, ir, hizer, ons, e, ith and his-her, because why mess up a good thing?
Despite all the well-intentioned attempts to create a gender-neutral language, all changes have ostensibly failed. The best explanation we have for this is that the changes have been purposefully engineered, and language evolution tends to stick best when it's organic. So it seems we all simply need to chill a bit and things should start looking up.
Just act natural.
Watermelon And Chicken Started Off As Foods Of Black Independence
Among the thousands of injustices white Americans have inflicted against African-Americans is the ruining of two delicious foods: watermelon and fried chicken. Thanks to disgusting 19th-Century caricatures and a scene in 1915's Birth Of A Nation in which African-American legislators eat fried chicken at their desks, black people have been forced to distance themselves from universally beloved foods. Mary J. Blige, for example, apologized for appearing in a Burger King ad that featured a crispy chicken wrap. Do you want to get press for your golf tour, edgy cartoon, or racist protest of a protest? Invoke black people, fried chicken, and watermelon, and the media will get you trending on Facebook in no time.
"Could have been worse. I could have been doing an Arby's commercial."
Here's the (not so) shocking part: White people had to reverse-engineer the stereotype of black people loving fried chicken and watermelon to make those foods bad. And they had to WORK VERY HARD to get there.
In 1801, an English soldier wrote home about Egyptian peasants sloppily eating watermelons in the streets and leaving their rinds everywhere. Monocles presumably popped straight off English faces, because English people had major issues with how everyone else in the world ate, white or black. Charles Dickens visited America and described his presumably white hosts as "so many fellow animals" who "strip social sacraments of everything but the mere satisfaction of natural cravings." When he went home, he vividly painted a picture of America's Washington elites as nasty, tobacco-drooling yokels. That was 1842.
"According to sources, everybody looked like Shrek during the Tyler administration."
Fast-forward about 20 years. Americans, who now had a global reputation as being backwards and disgusting when it came to meals, used the same food-shaming tactic on emancipated slaves. Once freed, it made sense for former slaves to grow and sell food, as humans often do. Not only is watermelon easy to grow, but it's also easy to eat on the go, as the English observer noted in Egypt. Suddenly, a fruit represented economic liberation for people who used to be property, and that did not sit well with those who once fought to keep their people-property.
By 1869, the first caricature of freed blacks eating watermelon on the streets was in print. In the same way that the Irish were described as lazy for potatoes (their easy crop of choice), watermelon became the stand-in for a slothful crop of choice for African-Americans. It took some serious twisting to reinvent a device of entrepreneurship as a symbol of laziness, but by golly, whites pulled it off.
It's honestly a wonder they didn't go all-in and mock blacks for eating, period.
Chicken got the same treatment. The low cost of obtaining and feeding chickens made fried chicken a staple amongst African-Americans. So to sum things up, blacks in the 1800s were able to feed themselves on a budget, so history mocked them. To be even more succinct, fuck everything.
Retouching Women's Bodies Has Been Around Forever
The unhealthy messages sent by the trend of Photoshopping women have been in the news for a while. Prominent celebrities have begun releasing their own versions of photo shoots and magazine covers, revealing their less-than-ginormous breasts, stretch-marked thighs, or untanned bodies. People like Zendaya, Cindy Crawford, and Keira Knightly (NSFW) have been standing up for their real (albeit already gorgeous) bodies to inspire women to find confidence in their own skin. It's a stance that's long overdue, seeing as how the retouching of women's bodies has been going on since the age of the vintage pinup girl.
Take, for example, this GIF of the lovely-if-not-terrifying Joan Crawford, which demonstrates the old-school 1930's methods of retouching a face, removing wrinkles and moles, and evening out one's skin tone with the magic of backlighting and vibrating the negative.
Until your face is as blankly smooth as the mask of Michael Myers, you're not truly beautiful.
Easier still to manipulate were the pinup paintings of the bygone era. Notorious artist Gil Elvgren would go so far as to have real live ladies pose for his cutesy works of art to add realism to the vintage scenes. Then he would immediately set to task changing every last bit of their bodies.
Thinning waists and thighs:
Making eyes wider and brighter ... essentially removing all the realism from his painstakingly real paintings in the end.
Duckface is somehow the least obnoxious thing going on here.
All of these models are unmistakably white, which is definitely not an accident. Advertisements and magazines have recently come under fire for their obvious whitewashing of women of color, like this ad featuring Beyonce which very clearly lightened up her skin and hair tone:
We prefer the one to the left, to the left.
Contrast this with 1907, when National Geographic published images of topless women, absolutely zero of them white. At the time, white breasts were taboo, because they were considered sexy, so the magazine could get away with partial nudity as long the women weren't white-skinned. African-Americans were seen as lesser women, thereby making their nude bodies acceptable publishing material. The magazine openly admitted to making some women's skin darker in order to use the images, because it made them look "more native" and "valid," which is depressing when you realize that even a child's toy company has grown more progressive than most of the rest of us.
We've Been Joking About Male Rape Since Ancient Greece
When it comes to victim-blaming and humiliation, everyone is fair game, because again, people are the worst. Cyclops isn't just a douchey sunglasses-and-spandex-wearing superhero -- it's also the title of a play poking fun at a scene in Homer's Odyssey, because ancient Greek satire was some seriously highbrow stuff. In the OG version of the scene, Odysseus gives a man-eating giant named Polyphemus a boatload of wine before blinding him and escaping from the island of the Cyclops. Fair enough. Eating people is not cool, Polyphemus.
If you're going to drive a giant stick through anyone's eye for any reason, that's a pretty good one.
In Cyclops, the Scary Movie to the Odyssey's Scream, Polyphemus is replaced by nameless giants who hang around with the the satyrs, a group of horsemen jammed into the story for comedic effect. In this version, the main giant doesn't get drunk enough to get eye-stabbed, because the head satyr keeps dipping into his wine. Then -- here comes the funny part -- the giant gets horny and drags the wine-stealing satyr off-stage to (presumably) rape him.
Cue laugh track
The king of double entendres himself, good ol' Billy Shakespeare, was a huge fan of male rape -- it was practically his go-to gag. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, a man suspiciously named Bottom is roofied by magic, gagged, and dragged into the fairy queen's bedroom by four fairy underlings. It's a harrowing scene that would lend itself to any listicle on sexism throughout history, had the genders been reversed. But because this happens to a man at the hands of a gorgeous fairy queen, it's totally played for LOLs.
Shakespeare was also a big patron of the "bed trick," a plot device which usually sees a man getting ready to do the dirty deed with one woman, only to discover she's been swapped out for another in some weird, sexy tag team. Rather than portraying this as the rape it is, Shakespeare uses it to propel the happy ending in a play whose entire title references said ending, All's Well That Ends Well. In it, a woman is given the right to choose whichever husband she wishes, enforced by the king. When the man opts for freedom of choice, she plays a bed trick on him, trapping him into marriage with an unwanted pregnancy. This Olde English soap opera B-plot doesn't inspire rage or sympathy from the victim's mother, either -- she's happy about it.
"I can't wait to spoil my grandson with stories about why his father drinks all the time!"
Anti-Feminist Memes Date Back to the 1800's
Back in the day, women in search of voting rights were a favorite subject of mockery. England and the U.S. were inundated with misogynistic postcards, billboards, and magazine ads warning against the dangers of balloted women. These proto-memes ran the gamut, with some implying that feminists were old, unmarried maids:
Let's rewrite that for you: You called her a pet, that's why she's a suffragette.
And others accusing suffragettes of being ugly:
Never heard that one before.
Of course, #notallwomen fall into those categories, so these old-timey MRAs went after beautiful and/or married women by making them out to be lazy floozies who manipulated men's votes by offering up their bodies or emasculating them completely, whichever came first.
Or, you know, never at all.
African-Americans Immediately Hacked "Driving While Black"
Racial profiling and police brutality have become so common that they've inspired both memes, such as Chris Rock's police stop selfies, and apps like Driving While Black -- which, despite the name, is intended to educate all minorities of their rights during a basic traffic stop. Or Hands Up 4 Justice, which allows users to secretly record traffic stops. Or the Stop And Frisk Watch app, which monitors police activity and informs users of their rights. It's a big issue, and hacks are everywhere these days.
Except the issue of being stopped on the road because your skin is a darker hue isn't new, of course. And neither are the hacks -- it's just that previous versions were decidedly analog. Every year between 1937 and 1964, the Negro Motorist's Green Book was published. Cleverly disguised as your typical all-American travel guide, the magazine would feature tourist hot spots and vehicle maintenance tips, while offering lists of black-friendly establishments to prevent dangerous confrontations while on the road.
In other words, the second black Americans got access to highways, they had to figure out how to navigate them without getting killed by racists. Let's say you were a black family who wanted to drive from South Texas to Disneyland. The Green Book would tell you where you could safely sleep, eat, go to the bathroom, get gas, and enjoy the drive without finding yourself and your kids stranded in a sundown town.
The tagline "Carry your Green Book with you -- you might need it"
could've come from a horror movie trailer, and for good reason.
So how did this lifesaving book get published every year without the benefit of the internet? It was named after its original author, Victor Green, a Harlem-based postal worker who had union contacts all across the country. When his contacts couldn't provide the name of hotels for black visitors, Green listed the addresses of "tourist homes" -- private houses that hosted travelers. Here's Mr. Green himself, in case you were wondering what the face of lifesaving greatness looks like:
"Sorry. I was going to show up earlier in this article, but I got pulled over for ... you know."
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