Women versus Men in Higher Education: My Pedagogical Experiences Highlighted

By: Rhonda Nemri

Education is around us everywhere. We become educated through the many stages of our lives. Some have attended pre-school or day care all the way through their elementary education of 8th grade. Then we move along to four years of high school, and students become part of a different pedagogical way of learning. Students attending classes for 8 hours a day, forming long-term friendships (or not), sports, lunch, student body activities that bond the high school together and finally faculty and staff that are there. Then these students graduate and move along to higher education: college. College becomes a new experience for these students. For some it is a way to party and meet new people, and others solely believe that the college education is a key component in their success, with some slight partying and meeting new people. College becomes part of your new identity. These students elementary and high school days are over and are becoming a new person or still holding on to their high school years. However, as students become acclimated in their new classrooms, the classroom climate is different from the average high school classroom. You are now left alone, and possibly know no one around you. This tends to be one of the scarier moments when first attending as a freshmen college student. Nonetheless, the first day of classes is an experience that one wouldn’t forget. All the clicks you were once part of in high school is gone, and you are now on your own.

As an educator in higher education, teaching college students in the communication field has struck a very interesting nerve in my body. I notice many different things when lecturing, doing group activities, assignments, and class discussions. Getting a college degree has been and I am sure will always be one accomplishment in one’s life that is very dear to them. Including myself, when I first received my bachelor’s degree a few years ago, I felt it was something that I worked hard for and had many sleepless nights. However, that accomplishment was something I can still remember being a great step and pushed me forward to attend graduate school and become a college instructor. Being a teacher was something that I always wanted to become. At a young age I used to pretend with my younger sisters to play school. I was the teacher often, and they were my students. It felt great to feel as if I were in charge, and actually gave out assignments that they’ve done. Of course it was silly assignments, and from what I remember assignments pertained rewriting sentences from a book, and spelling words. At times pretend teaching seemed real for me, and the authoritative figure that I was to my sisters as their play teacher is what made me feel good.

As I compare my pretend teaching “position” to my now teaching position, being an authoritative figure and just that is not on my agenda as an educator. However, holding the authoritative position in the classroom is something that one must pertain, but to not only use your legitimate power to get attention. I have been teaching now for almost 2 years, and I just can’t seem to stop thinking about women in the classroom versus men in the classroom.  I will be discussing my experience being a young woman educator to college students, women and men in the classroom through my experiences, and how it has opened my eyes constructing new pedagogical ways of teaching.

My Teaching Experience and Image

A couple of years ago, I was just finishing up my Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations. My ability to communicate and become open-minded has been very much influenced by my peers and professors at the university. Standing in front of the class room was not an issue for me; however the thought roaming through my head was “are they going to even listen to me?” Being in the communication field has also pushed me to want to learn more. Therefore teaching a hybrid communication course is very much something I always wanted to do. This course consists of interpersonal communication theories, small group communication, persuasion, and how to research and construct an informative and persuasive speech. I constantly dreamed about my teaching position, and of course my sub-conscious tends to show me a vision in my dreams that doesn’t necessarily make sense or even true, however it did let me see what could potentially be a classroom. Being a young woman I believe has been hard trying to be heard and known for what I believe in. Being young and an educator to students whose ages range from 18-45 is one of the difficult tasks as an educator. Number one, the young students will look at me as their friend, and second the older student may tend to first stereotypically judge me as very young and uneducated, or someone who can’t possibly teach them more than what they already know because of my age. But it is interesting to point out that I never ever revealed my age to students. I kept that a mystery to them. Every semester when the first day of classes begins, my students tend to see two different people from the first day to the last day. My authoritative persona is definitely out. As much as I don’t like to intimidate students, I tend to come off that way because of my straightforwardness on the first day. Reading my policies out loud to them they tend to give me blank stares or are really scared because they are freshmen. I like to add a little sarcasm and humor on the first day. Humor tends to give them an ease, but at the same time the legitimate power is definitely there to establish a sense of stability in the classroom so that they don’t think I am just a young woman who doesn’t care for them. I find that my techniques for the first day have worked for me in my teaching career. I believe that as they view me as a woman and educated they tend to believe in my ability to help them with their college career. Although teaching is not all peaches and cream. Being a woman educator is not always positive because I do come across those “Wow I can’t believe they just said that to me” moments. Male and female students can look at me in different ways. I can definitely see the difference in the two, especially when they approach me. My philosophy in teaching is fairness. I try to be as fair as possible when it comes to both sexes. However not everyone is the same, and some come off as aggressive towards me when they don’t like what they hear.

I had many unusual and great experiences throughout the semesters that I have taught. One specific memory that stuck to me was from a male student who asked me a question that made me really think. As I was handing back their group projects, he asked me “How do you feel being a young woman teacher and handing back bad grades?… wouldn’t that make people hate you because you are a young woman?” At first I just didn’t think I could respond without seeming too aggressive, but of course I tried to handle it and made him understand that I grade everyone whether young or old the same way, everyone is treated fair, and me being a young woman shouldn’t  affect the way people perceive me in the class. From that moment I believe I put him in a place that allowed him to think about his question and my response. Of course I didn’t say everything I wanted to say to him, and I hated that feeling because there was so much I wanted to say. I don’t think students understand how much they impact teachers. I always tell them I am just like you: human. I am not a robot and yes I enjoy music, shopping, dining out, etc. The way they impact me in the classroom helps with my teaching and how I handle situations.

I am not sure how students really deep down feel about me, however student evaluations have helped me see their point of view. I get a lot of good ones, some are okay, and others are angry at me because of the grades they are receiving in the class. You can’t win them all, and this is something I had trouble figuring out because I wanted to at first win them all. I want them to all be successful, however that is ultimately their choice and how much effort they put in. My students do know I am into feminism, and that I am a feminist. It’s interesting to see that some of them are actually interested in feminism, and think that they offend me when they say something to me face-to-face that deal with women. I appreciate comments and suggestions. I don’t get offended or insulted unless they blatantly want to offend me on purpose or are just purely ignorant. Fortunately I haven’t come across a student who has insulted me. I am sure they might talk about me behind my back but that’s their choice. However, with all the great feelings I have comes with bad feelings. My image is a key component to how students view me. I have long dark hair, curvy, and petite, 5’4, and do have exotic features.

I dress professional most the time, unless it is an off day, and this is something that I believe has helped with how students view me. There is a small activity I do for perception and students have to guess and answer questions about me to see how they perceive me. This leads into my lecture of perception, since we tend to stereotype and judge others before we know them. I ask a question that’s states, “list the jobs you think I used to have”. The amounts of responses are funny at times, however they only viewed me in jobs that women tend to be a part of. They put careers such as, nurse, teacher, librarian, secretary, retail, and cashier. These responses were anonymous, so some felt like putting jobs that were definitely demeaning and sexist. But that’s just what I expect because it’s the phase of being funny, cool, and wanted to get a reaction from me. I tell them I will read off some of the responses, so they think I will mention the bad ones too, but I don’t give them that satisfaction.

Being a woman in the classroom has also struck some interesting thoughts. Male students will look at women teachers as either a sex object or motherly. But because women are often seen as either those two then this then occurs in the classroom. I find that if a woman is an older teacher, students will view her as more motherly than sexy, because the older woman teacher is symbolically representing a motherly figure to them, and is possibly the same age as their mother. When looking at older teachers (40-60s), students will have their own perceptions of who she is. She is not looked at the same way as a younger teacher.  But ultimately they create their own judgments and perceptions of women teachers. As women teachers, we have to have this image and unfortunately we have to meet some of the expectations of how we should look. If a male teacher is dressed down with jeans and a T-shirt or polo, students’ questioning his credibility is rare or not even questioned. But because they already view a male teacher as an expert and holds power, they don’t look at his image as a key factor in his abilities to teach. Our attire is very much part of our nonverbal. Our appearance projects a message to our students. Because we are educators we have to look presentable. I am not stating that male teachers don’t get judged because of how they dress, because they do. However, it is less likely in comparison to a woman teacher. I remember on a day I didn’t feel like wearing heels, I wore flats. I wanted to be comfortable because on that particular day students were presenting their projects. A female student gazed at me up and down and stated, “So you aren’t wearing heels today?” As if I am only supposed to wear heels. I kind of chuckled and said “Yes, I wanted to be comfortable”. I am sure male students look at my image and how I dress. But I feel sometimes the clothes I wear I am considered a “fashionable teacher.” Yes I love clothes and looking nice, but I don’t want to be solely known for my clothes. I usually get comments about my clothes from student evaluations, which should evaluate my teaching, and the course. But I get those evaluations that state “I loved the way you dressed up”, “I never seen you wear the same outfit more than once, you looked amazing”, or “Sometimes you dressed inappropriate”. I didn’t understand how I dressed inappropriate and wasn’t sure what they meant by that because I always dressed professionally, or dressed down on certain days because of the comfort level that called for those days of teaching. These students that comment on my clothes just seen me as a manikin advertising the newest trends. Then I question is it the age and the maturity level of these students? It is quite possible that it is, however I am convinced that my clothes and how I look has a big impact on my credibility and abilities to teach as a woman.


Women versus Men in the Classroom

I want to now move on to discussing male versus female students through my teaching experience. The ratio of male student versus female students in my course is interestingly low. In my courses it is predominantly women. This is not surprising since more women attend college than men.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), “between 1999 and 2009, overall college enrollment increased by 38 percent, from 14.8 million to 20.4 million. But, over that time span, the number of enrolled females climbed by 40 percent, versus 35 percent for men” (as seen in International Business Times). But from what I have observed in my classes, I tend to see female students different from men in how they react or respond in the classroom. In my classes I try to build a positive climate. Therefore, I allow questions to be asked, interactions with me during class and office hours, and students to get to know each other (sometimes end up best friends because of my course). I encourage students to speak up and express their selves in my class. It is not straight lecture which is always great because not only am I educating them, they educate me too during class discussion on certain topics.

During my lectures I tend to ask questions to the entire class. But what I noticed is that female students tend to mumble their answers or barely speak up. They sound unsure of what they are answering. At times when they mumble their words, I ask them to speak up. Usually they answer vaguely and don’t expand on their answers. My job in that situation is to help them expand and answer without being vague. When comparing a male student in that situation, they are very talkative and expand on their answers. Even when they answer the question wrong, they still feel confident about their answer. Male students tend to dominate discussions, whether there are more males or fewer males in the class. At times while a female is answering the question, but not accurately, a male student will jump to answer the question. This then causes women to not speak up again because she got shut down by the male student. When women speak in class they feel they must have impression management. Women have been taught to become silent when a man is present. By being taught this way, doesn’t help when she is either in the workplace or at school. Even though some women are very outspoken in their personal lives, by being a student they still feel the need to not speak up because they believe they are silly, vulnerable, and will be judged.

I also notice when a female students answers a question quietly and I ask them to repeat it they are afraid to answer it again. They believe that they are wrong, or make it seem that they didn’t even answer the question. They get easily embarrassed and shy. However, when female students turn in their assignments, their writing is absolutely amazing. They elaborate and have numerous pages of worthy analysis/discussion of theory/concepts from the course. Male students tend to be short in their writing, they are vague, and do not really expand on their thoughts. Some male students are also intelligent and share a lot with me too in their writing, but those male students are the ones who hardly speak up in class. But when they do answer questions, they don’t quite answer how a female does. They expand, and have provided good examples. Not saying female students are all like this, however, this is how they are the majority of the time. During class activities, I put students in groups together. It is random all the time, so this means it could be all male students together, all female students together, or mixed. What I notice is when all female students are together; they are talkative and manage to do the activity great. Conversely, when you stick a male student in that equation, female students are very quiet, and hardly speak up. Also one must think about the beginning of a semester. When you generally have students who always participate in the beginning of the course, the students who don’t normally speak up feel the need to not ever speak up since the talkative students will do that for them. However, I tend to pick students to respond when there is silence. If a student has talked too much I say, “Thank you for your willingness to answer, let’s give someone else a chance”.  The one thing that I am willing to do is help a student figure out the answer, and wait for them to answer. I don’t rush them and seem impatient. When a female student is chosen to answer, she seems flustered and begins to panic. Starts with an “umm” and pauses a few times, and then gives her two-word answer. When I ask her to elaborate she begins the whole cycle again, but this time I have given her a better opportunity to show her competence in the class by providing better examples.

When female students talk to me privately they are very open, and speak up. But still have tendencies to be shy and unsure of how they speak. Male students hardly ever see me during my office hours, and if they do it is to ask questions about their grades. I tend to get female students ask about assignments and how they can improve. This is great and what I want them to do. I believe that when I put myself in these women’s situation, I was the same exact way when I was an undergraduate student. I hardly ever spoke up, and if I did I was completely shy because I was afraid of what people would think of me. I barely participated and was always observing the course. Anytime there was a question asked I always formulated the answer in my head, and when no one would answer it, I still wouldn’t answer it even if I knew it was correct. I hated myself for it because I didn’t show my competence during class discussions, but only through my writing. I see myself in these woman students, and I do not get angry when they don’t speak up, because I’ve gone through with it too. Nonetheless, seeing woman student’s shut down because of males in the classroom is what makes me passionate about changing that kind of atmosphere in the classroom.

My Pedagogical Ways

Being an educator was something I always wanted to be as I mentioned. However, the reasons of being an educator when I was younger are definitely for different reasons now. I had an imagination turned into a passion.  I had no idea how I was going to be as a college teacher, but I believe this is my niche. I will always have great and bad moments when teaching, but I believe that’s what makes me want to be great at my job. I learn from each bad moment, and make it a learning experience for me. Even though I can get frustrated at times, I still see myself being an educator. I hope to encourage female students to want to be strong and open-minded and have a voice in the classroom and outside of the classroom. I feel the person I was as an undergraduate student has changed because I was encouraged by my professors to have a voice and to be heard even if I answer wrong. I know that men will always try to dominate the classroom with their side comments, answers, try to be cool and fit in, however I know that they feel they have to be that way because they believe it is their nature to be this way. Every class is different, and every person is different. I learned that I cannot be the same exact person in every class and that I have to be what I feel suits the class. Some classes are overly talkative, and others are very quiet. The moment those students leave my course at the end of the semester, my heart sinks, because I do tend to have the “motherly” actions of wanting to hold their hand throughout the way. Even though I believe I am not trying to mother them on purpose, it’s just my tendencies of wanting them to be successful and close to perfect.  But then again, I am happy that the semester is over and a new group of students come in to teach me something new. I love the comments at the end that state “You seemed intimidating in the beginning, but after I got to know you, I knew that wasn’t the case and I could talk to you anytime”. These comments I am grateful for and hope to reach out and make a difference, whether they tell me or not. The fact that women attend college more than men is amazing to me, but still we shouldn’t forget that women no matter what degree they obtain, women still get paid less than men. This is something that women have dealt with, and probably will deal with if change is not done. Being a woman and an educator has taught me to be a strong individual and has helped me through understanding people better because of the diversity in the classroom. Incoming freshmen students are not used to the college experience, so they think they have to sit in the classroom and follow policies, raise their hand, and only speak when told to. Then there is returning students who are afraid they are doing things wrong because they haven’t been in school for a while.

Teaching is not about dominating someone and showing them whose boss, it is allowing a student to become something more than what is expected from them. I will always have students who are ready for college, not ready for college, undecided about their destiny, or just there because they think it is the right thing to do after high school. With all types of ways students are I have learned that I can’t save all of them, however I can try. Understanding how the classroom works is something that educators need to know in order to successfully enlighten students. I know I am not an expert, and I need to learn more about teaching, and I am willing to. Some women whether young or older, will always feel the need to not speak up or be confident in what they say. I hope that one day this is not the case for them and that they express themselves with or without men present in the room. Even though I teach communication, I do understand that other fields have similar ways of how men and women are in the classroom or workplace. This definitely occurs in the male dominated careers such as engineering or mathematics. Everyone will find their way in this long journey. Some find it sooner than others and some find it later. I believe that everyone has a journey they are on, it just depends how bad they want to accomplish their wants and needs. I am definitely still on my journey, and once that journey finishes, another one will definitely come. So far teaching has become one of my journeys that I cherish deeply.


International Business Times. Why Are More Woman Than Men Going to College? Web. http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/262161/20111206/women-men-gender-gap-college-university-degrees.htm?page=all

My Hair, My Identity, My Security, My Protection: The Veiled and Unveiled Symbolism of Hair and Image

By: Rhonda Nemri

Since the day we are born, we either have a full head of hair, slightly full, or barely any hair. Ultimately we have hair. Our hair is symbolic to us. Virgin or pure hair, meaning never been touched by hair dye or chemicals infused to either make your hair flat, wavy or curly, is what makes your hair labeled as natural. “In simple terms, the average speed of hair growth is roughly 1.25 centimeters or 0.5 inches per month, being about 15 centimeters or 6 inches per year” (“How To Make Your Hair Grow Faster”).  Our hair is a valuable part of our body that we hold on to, whether we are male or female. Men are known to have receding hair lines, go completely bald, or have grey hair when they age. It is quite possible that men and woman can get grey hair at a young age due to genetic or stress levels. Women also lose their hair definitely during stress, use of products, pregnancy, or illness. It is not likely to see a woman going bald in comparison to a man, but it definitely occurs.

In order to fit the image that the top hair product corporations portray, you must purchase items such as relaxers, shampoo, conditioner, organic serum that nurtures the hair to bring back its natural oils, hair gel and mousse, hair growing kits, so on and so forth. There are many items to choose from and different brands that all promise you the same things: soft, unfrizzy, less splitends, and volume. But it is up to the customer to decide what brand fits them best. Advertisements on television, in magazines, and billboards portray the very images of how to sell their products using the very obvious advertisement technique; models. Advertisements make you feel like there is something wrong with your hair so that you can purchase your own hair regimen to improve the texture, softness, and shine, the same way as the model with perfect hair. Hardly you see women who have short hair advertising shampoo, hair spray, mousse, or gel. It is always women hair models (usually celebrities) with long, beautiful hair, in which their hair is most likely video edited to look natural and healthy. These very images that we see in ads, are the very images that affect are ways of thinking when it comes to how we should have our hair, and how we should take care of it in order to look beautiful. Which brings me to discuss the importance of hair and its symbols in culture and religion.

Cultural and Religious Symbols of Hair

The reason why I chose to write about this is because I see my hair as something very valuable, secure, and my protection. I see hair as something that is beautiful, but something that is symbolic for many reasons in society. From when we are young, we are familiar with what makes a man and what makes a woman. However, as a child you don’t really understand or grasp the full concept of the physical and biological factors of what makes a man and a woman; children just notice hair being a key factor. Boys have short hair, girls have long hair. In many cultures hair is very valuable, and we can definitely see the symbolism of hair through different cultures and religions. In Christianity, Islam, Hindu and, Buddhism both women and men cover their hair; however, it is much more likely to see a women covering her hair for religious, or cultural purposes.  In both Westernized and modern days the hijab/veil is quite familiar, and is used to cover a woman’s hair. In Christianity we see this with nuns who show their purity and commitment to God by abstaining from modernized clothing, and covering their hair and body.  Hair is also a symbolic treasure when a child gets baptized in the catholic or orthodox church. “After confirming the child, the priest cuts three locks of hair from his (or HER) head. This is an expression of gratitude for receiving God’s blessings in baptism and confirmation. Having nothing to give in return, the gift of his (or HER) hair is a symbol of strength like Samson) is a promise to serve God with all his strength” (“Baptism in the Greek Orthodox Church”).  Through Islamic traditions the hijab is seen in a different light, however does represent some similarities. According to Lane, the meanings of the word hijab are: “a thing that prevents, hinders, debars, or precludes; a thing that veils, conceals, hides, covers, or protects, because it prevents seeing, or beholding”. “The hijab also means a partition, a bar, a barrier, or an obstacle. In the Qur’an, the word hijab appears seven times, in five instances as hijab (noun) and twice as hijaban (noun). Neither hijab nor hijaban is used in the Qur’an in reference to what Muslims (and non-Muslims) today call the hijab, that is, a Muslim women’s dress code. In most cases, the Qur’an uses the word hijab in a metaphysical sense, meaning illusion or referring to the illusory aspect of creation” (Ruby 55).

Of course in different religions and cultures, the veil/hijab has its own connotation to some.  People view the hijab or veil as something that covers the woman’s hair in order to remove the male gaze. Perhaps it is to also remove one’s ability from seeing one of the most purest component of a woman or girl; her hair. However, I do have my questions and opinions about one’s idea of purity and sacredness to God is through a piece of fabric that covers the head of a woman or girl from the outside world. I believe that every woman should be able to choose who she is, and how she wants to be. Whether covering her hair or not. The controversial issues of oppression behind the covering of one’s hair are often portrayed through scholarly works, media, and books. I do not know what it is like to cover my hair, because I never tried it, but I often question why one chooses to cover something that is so beautiful, and have to feel they have to hide something in hopes of removing the chances of a man viewing you as a sexual object or gaze at you. I tend to believe with or without the veil the male gaze is quite present, and probably won’t go away. Some women, whether Islamic, Christian, Hindu, etc., have their own purposes of choosing to wear the veil for either religious purposes or their own personal choices. It could be their own protection and valuable entity that grants them piece, purity, and a closer connection to their identity and God. However, this is not why I am writing this piece. I am writing this to highlight what my hair means to me, how it is part of my identity, and what it means to others/society.

My Hair, My Identity, My Security, My Protection

I tend to look through old pictures of me and family members when we were children, and I noticed that I went through many phases with hair styles. I had very long hair that reached the bottom of my back, shoulder length hair, and even hair to my ears; the very famous bowl haircut. Although I didn’t understand that my hair was part of my identity, therefore if someone cut my hair really short, I didn’t care. I remember at a young age, probably 5 or 6, my cousin who is a year older than me was going to the salon to cut her hair very short; what I like to call the “boy haircut”; short and very easy to manage. I wanted to come along with her to the salon, and while I was there, I decided I wanted the same exact haircut. I don’t remember the exact reasons; however, I did know I wanted to be like her. When you are around the same people constantly at a young age and play with them, you tend to want to pursue and obtain the same things that they have to feel complete or significant. I don’t think I really understood what it meant to have short or long hair, I just wanted short hair.

After that part of my life, my hair was whatever my mother wanted my hair to look like, or if I needed a quick trim. Either bangs, short, medium, or long hair; this is what I had. I did at times have a say in what I wanted, but when I got to high school, I started experimenting with my own hair. I felt I needed to look a certain way, and hold this image that I tend to see other girls in my high school have. I never accepted my hair the way it was. I always dyed it lighter than what it naturally is, got a perm my junior year of high school, and somehow accidentally managed to dye my hair the color reddish/orange by my senior graduation. The girls I went to high school with had always dyed their hair or had curly hair. While in high school I believe whether boy or girl, we tend to go through the many phases when trying to fit in. I tried to be my own person especially through my personality and character traits. However, it was always about hair and image that I always tried to change to fit societal expectations. My hair however, was long in high school. I remember getting asked a question by a classmate, “Is your hair real?” I was taken aback by this question, and thought to myself, “Now why in the hell would my hair be fake?” I was naïve to even think that it was possible for women to add extensions or wear a wig. I just generally thought my long hair was easy to obtain. Of course that arrogance was soon diminished and I realized that hair is something important to one, because so many women try to add in hair that isn’t theirs to feel some security and fitting to what society expects from women.

As I mentioned, my hair after high school was always long. It was my shield, my protections, and my security. I remember in my first year of college I went to get a haircut, and it went all wrong. She cut most of it off. It went from my lower back to my shoulders. I didn’t quite understand why she did this to me, because I never asked for a short haircut, just a trim. As I ran my fingers through what I thought would be long wavy hair, it was gone. I cried for days trying to find ways to cover myself, and explain to people this wasn’t what I wanted, so that they don’t think this is how I wanted to look.

In present day, my hair is long and has its natural brown hair color. I get it trimmed every 6-8 weeks or whenever I have time to go get it cut. I usually maintain my hair certain ways. I don’t usually use a straightener or blow dryer unless I need to. I tend to let it air dry, and it has a little natural wave. I get numerous compliments on it a lot, or asked if it is real. I’ve even gotten offers to cut it all off and sell it. Some people tell me to never cut it, some tell me I should be in hair commercials, and others tell me to cut about 5-6 inches off. I appreciate the compliments, and try to be humble about it. I am known as the “girl with the beautiful long hair.” However, what really puzzles me is that people see my hair as who I only am. They believe my hair is a part of me and only me. If I were to shave off my hair, then I am no longer the person they seen before, If I cut it to shoulder length then I am still looked at differently, and if I kept it long, then this is the most accepting look for me. I tend to get people who tell me to chop it all off, and get a new style. However, as much as I do want to chop it all off and donate it; I can’t seem to mentally get myself to do it. It has become a part of my identity that I can’t seem to let go. It is my protection when I cry, it is my protection if I break out, and it is my protection from others to not ridicule me for having short hair. My dream is to cut it short without someone judging me for it being short. I tend to believe that without my hair, it is what makes my face look the way it is. Society tends to believe that hair is what makes beauty and that if you have a beautiful or well-structured face; then this is when short hair fits properly on you.  This comes to my question of the veil or hijab that one must think about. If a woman has a beautiful face (or what your own definition of what beautiful is), yet covers her hair, isn’t she still attracting the other sex? I often believe that the hijab is becoming part of our socially constructed society, and a fashion statement for some. One can appreciate the beauty of the preciously woven fabric that a woman puts on her head, however if she takes the time to properly place a beautiful piece on her head, then that contradicts what the hijab is stating. With these last few statements I am not demeaning the hijab/veils purpose, I am simply questioning why cover something so natural and beautiful with something so fashionable and beautiful? This then should go back to my statement of feeling some identity or connection with God, which is fine, however it is still amusing and very interesting to see how societal norms have pushed women to be and act a certain way to fit in the expectations of what a woman should look like, whether covered or uncovered.

The process of self-objectification is something that women tend to go through when trying to feel and obtain the image that society is expecting from women. “Self-objectification may be conceived of as one consequence of dominant sexist ideologies that justify and preserve the social status quo by gaining the compliance of women, despite the fact that gender inequality inflicts significant costs upon girls and women as individuals and as a group” (as seen in Calogero and Jost 224). Women will somehow feel they have to conform to societal roles and what each gender characteristic should entail. Since girls or woman should have medium to long hair, then this makes her a true woman. Anything shorter or comparable to what a man’s hair length should be, she is not seen purely as woman, she is seen as woman wanting to be masculine, because of her choice in hair length. I still struggle when trying to make the decision to cut my hair shorter than what it is. It will definitely be my choice if I want it short, medium, or long. It is part of my identity because I have made it part of my identity. I envy those women who do cut their hair short. I am sure it is an experience that is life changing for some, and it could be an empowering moment for them. This is something I am not sure why women do it, though, I want to do it because I want to be known for something else more than my hair, and perhaps a new look for me. I want to feel that whatever decision I made with my hair is because I want it, and not what society wants.

Women in the Middle Eastern culture (including myself) are often known for their dark, wavy, and thick hair. It is an attribute that should stick with them. One of the main desires for a man is for his wife to have beautiful hair. A woman’s soft, long locks bring a sense of security for both men and woman. It is fulfilling to have something wave from side to side and get blown in the wind to resemble the soft seductiveness of her persona. Trying to fit into something you are just not quite for is a hard thing to do. The statement I often hear is “why fit in, when you can stand out.” Which has some truth to it. As women, we need to find ourselves not condoning the patriarchal ways of what a woman should be. Though image is one of the most important aspects of our lives, and I am one to admit that I do have insecurities, however, I do realize that the insecurities I have are through the self-surveillance that I have about myself. Though each day I become more and more authentic, I believe women can be too, if they allow themselves. I don’t claim I know everything, but I can claim that these ideas and opinions that I pointed out do occur. There is also more to understand about the hijab/veils and religious values that I have not covered in here.  My hair is me, but not only me, it is my identity, but not my full identity, it is my security, not my insecurity. I do appreciate beautiful hair, whether long, short, medium, buzzed, curly, wavy, covered, and uncovered. I will continue to appreciate the compliments given to me about my hair, and think of it as something that is partially who I am. We all have something beautiful about us that we must appreciate. Appreciate it because you do, not because someone else appreciates it. Until then, I will continue to walk through the aisles of cosmetics stores looking at comparisons of shampoo, and continue to ponder the idea of cutting my hair short in the future.

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Baptism in the Greek Orthodox Church. Webhttp://www.kimisis.org/Orthodoxy/Baptism.html

Calogero, Rachel, M., and Jost, John, T. Self-subjugation Among Women: Exposure to Sexist Ideology, Self-objectification, and the Protective Function of the Need to Avoid Closure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. (2011) : 100.2, 211-228.

How to Make Your Hair Grow Faster. Web. http://www.howtomakeyourhairgrowfast.net/how-fast-does-hair-grow.html

Ruby, Tabassum , F. Listening to the Voice of Hijab. Women’s Studies International Forum. (2006): 29. 54-66.

“I Want to Live the Fairy-tale and Princess Life”: A Deeper Look Into the Portrayal of Women in Disney

By: Rhonda Nemri

In the early 1920s Walt Disney created the beginning of something magical and fulfilling to childhood life; Disney animation. The production of animation has become a significant role in many people’s lives. Animations that were created starting from the early 20s’ still exist in our children’s story books/television. Animations were known as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Dumbo, Peter Pan, Mickey Mouse, Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book, Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and so on. Adults have also enjoyed these animations that were made for children. Adults today still cherish these Disney moments and pass them along to their children in hopes of creating the magical and fantasy life children want to experience.  As an adult, I can recall the moments in my life as a child watching the different Disney productions that gave me the opportunity to have an imagination as a child.  Disney is used as a central piece for educating children, teens, and adults. Disney is consisted of television, radio, and print. “Dominating market power in entertainment mitigated by avuncular representation adheres to Disney in large part due to its primary production art form: the animated feature” (Artz).

According to Artz “the appropriation of cultural codes from traditional tales through visual metaphor, anthropomorphism, naturalized scenes and settings, and music are defining characteristics of Disney animation. Disney animation entertains and instructs because it offers a cinematic escape from reality by presenting recognizable narrative and imagistic fictions as if they were or could be reality (n.p.). The effect that cartoon characters have on the audience is substantial. Disney’s aim to their audience is to feel connected and wanting to be a part of this fantasy that in most cases won’t ever be a reality. These different movies or cartoon shows that are created are still shown, and will carry on its magical themes.  “Disney features do not become dated as quickly as other genre. Snow White, Bambi, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, and now Simba, Mulan, and Tarzan will likely thrill future audiences as their contemporaries” (Artz n.p.).  Mainly when you are a child, parents sit you in front of a television screen in hopes of enlightening the child for a moment and allow them to be part of the ongoing creations of Disney. Disney is a magical word. Products specifically for Disney have reached millions of people all over the world. In the 2011 fiscal year Disney’s net income increased 21% to a record $4.8 billion (“The Walt Disney Company Reports”).

With these different animations that have been around for decades, they have images and storylines for the viewers to be part of and allow the audience to connect with the different stories. A lot of times they have an emotional aspect to it to connect on a deeper level with these characters. However, the animations that has been out for decades and will probably continue to be read as stories for children’s bedtimes and shown on television, send off a message to the mass audience that must be questioned. Since a lot of the storylines for these animations deal with women, one must question the message and the portrayal of these woman characters. In this discussion, I will predominantly discuss The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and Cinderella, and how it affects women/girls, given the fact that these characters are still relevant today.

The animations that have been mentioned earlier in this essay have been around for decades. They each have a specific storyline that seems to get the audience attached to these characters. The idea that the “realities” of these women or girl characters end up in a fairytale ending is what seems to generate the attachment to these animations. The commonalities between the characters are beauty, sexuality, domesticity, love, honor, and being a princess. Animations such as The Little Mermaid, Jasmine in Aladdin, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and Cinderella, each have a specific story to their lives. With the different endings to each story, throughout the animation the objectification of these characters is presented. You might be thinking, “Well it is just an animation, there is no harm.” Yes it is just an animation, however these women characters is what young girls want to portray in their realities. Let’s first look at The Little Mermaid.

The Little Mermaid

Ariel is a beautiful, talented woman who ventures out in the sea. Her true passion is to be with Prince Eric, whom she ends up saving from an incident that led her to fall in love with him. What is striking about this love story is that she has to lose her identity in order to gain something, which is the Prince. The indication that women should give up her gifts and her desires to be with a man is problematic. Ariel must give up her voice (singing, aspirations and her love of music), and her fins to gain legs to walk in order to be with her Prince. However, with all that she has given up, the Prince still doesn’t want her and marries another woman. In order for Ariel to get her voice back she has to kill the Prince. She does not want to kill him, but is left between the struggling decision of either gaining the love of Prince Eric or getting her life back.  This is questionable since she went through far measures in order to gain the Prince, but makes it hard on herself to decide if she wants her identity back or to love. Ariel’s happily ever after requires her to be submissive and strip herself from anything she was passionate about to be with a man who didn’t want her. Ariel’s character shifts from strong independent to forcefully giving up something she loves to be happy. Looking in today’s society, women tend to change their body image in order to be accepted or loved. They augment their breasts, facelifts, and tummy tucks, which Ariel’s actions is a metaphor to 21st century actions. While looking at this cartoon, Ariel is not the only character that we can analyze. Prince Eric, whom seems to have the full package, is handsome, caring, loving, and holds the Prince Charming qualities that Ariel seemed to be intrigued by. However, Prince Eric fits the typical stereotype of what male Disney characters portray, and one that signifies the patriarchy.

Jasmine in Aladdin

Jasmine is a 16-year-old, who also has desires and wants in her life. She is beautiful and witty and has dreams of her own. She is the daughter to a Sultan of Agrabah. Jasmine’s character definitely represents the common Middle Eastern physical features. Dark long hair, olive to tan skin, and almond eyes that is seductive. Her father tends to suggest men to her to marry; however, Jasmine refuses any of the marriage propositions. She gets into trouble when spotted handing an apple to a young boy, but was accused of stealing from the village market. At this point Aladdin, whom disguises himself as a Prince because of a wish he received from the genie, tries to save her from getting her arm amputated. The two eventually fall in love with each other and she accepts the marriage proposal from Aladdin. Jafar, who has evil characteristics, represents the stereotypical angry, aggressive and forceful Middle Eastern man. Jafar exposes Aladdin’s dishonesty as a prince to Jasmine, and then exiles Aladdin to leave. Jasmine is then forced to become Jafar’s slave girl and turned into a harem concubine to wait on him. Aladdin then came back in hopes of saving Jasmine from the slave girl she has become. In order to get successfully rescued, Jasmine had to amuse Jafar by seducing him and pretending to fall in love with him, and then escaping with the genie lamp that Jafar took from Aladdin.

So now that I have given you a brief description of how the characters were portrayed, I will now offer an analysis and observation. First, Jasmine is a witty 16-year-old who spoke up about not marrying who her father wanted for her. However, the life that she refuses is thrown at her in a forceful way. She is to be seen as a wife and submissive. Her father wants to choose her lover, while Jasmine searches for her love in which it becomes Aladdin (the prince/hero).  This representation is highly relatable to the actual Middle Eastern girl/woman who is forced into a marriage with a man who she does not know or barely knows. Of course modernized traditions have changed a bit; but the concept of marriage is still similar to Westernized traditions. In an effort to rid this destiny, she runs away. She is also created as a seducer, sex object, and slave to Jafar. In the “Western imagination, the Middle Eastern harem was a place of sex, debauchery, slavery, miscegenation, power, riches, and sheer abandon” (Brookes). Jasmine was always running away from what is forced on her, although she is a heroine, she is still created as submissive, trapped in a life she doesn’t want, and princess. This is the common struggle with women today.  They have these lives that have been ascribed to them from when they are born. As soon as they are old enough to make their own decisions, women tend to struggle between wanting to be happy and wanting to make their family/society happy. It is hard for happiness to be equal, because there is always this forcefulness to a woman’s life to choose what society wants over her happiness. Here Jasmine is representing the Middle Eastern woman who has the voice and qualities to become whoever she wants, however she is still dominated by the male characters in this animation. It is socially constructed that women must marry at a young age, and in this animation Jasmine is 16. In American society marriage at age 16 is frowned upon; however in many other cultures or countries, specifically Middle Eastern or Mediterranean countries, marriage at a young age exists. Therefore Jasmine isn’t given the opportunity to grow as a woman; she is seen as a princess, daughter of a Sultan, and a future wife.

Belle from Beauty & the Beast

In the story of Beauty and the Beast is a very interesting one. This animation can easily allow for the audience to connect with the heroine; Belle. The plot starts with an enchantress who offers the prince a rose in exchange for a night’s shelter. When he turns her away, she punishes the prince by transforming him into a beast, and turning all of his servants into household and furniture items. The rose that she gave him symbolically represented his love. If by his 21st birthday he did not find love by the time the last petal has fallen, then he shall remain a beast for his entire life. Belle who represents many characteristics, is beautiful, assertive, but also has feminine characteristics such as nurturing and loving. She loved to read and was always at the bookstore or at home helping her father with chores. Her character was definitely different from the other women in this animation. She had goals to be something more, however other women were portrayed as bimbos, sexualized, mothers, or maids. In the animation, many men pursued Belle because she was very attractive and beautiful. She was definitely fancied by the male character Gaston. Gaston’s character is very arrogant, tough, and is a narcissist. He wants Belle to be his wife, and thinks he will get her no matter what because of his looks and physical features. Belle’s father Maurice who is an inventor, goes on a journey to a fair, however gets lost in the woods and captured by the beast to keep him hostage. Belle however shows up to the castle looking for her father. She offered the beast herself instead of her father to be a prisoner and held hostage.

Firstly we can see that Belle is a conservative, beautiful, and smart woman. The people in the village often saw her as weird because she often enjoys reading books and educating herself. This is something that is known in today’s society. Women who are educated and smart are not looked at the same compared to men who are educated and smart. Belle (and today’s women) is to represent beauty and domesticity. Anything other than that she was weird. In the first part of the animation we can see Belle as a loving and nurturing woman. She sings, and the sheep come to her because she is delightful. Which often, in Disney animation they represent women who often speak to animals. Just like Belle, she is capable of reaching out to animals because she is a woman who really has no voice. Throughout that scene strolling through the village, it is quite clear that all the women represented in that scene are domesticated. You can see mothers with children, maids, women cleaning, and the three young women who often lust over Gaston, which are sexualized. The women characters represent the social construction of what femininity is and what it should be.

Gaston represents the alpha-male. He dominates the village because of his physical features. He wants Belle and only Belle. Even though Belle refuses him, he still thinks he can get her. His character is a representation of the aggressive male whom uses his sexual-being to get what he wants. His prey is Belle and he is the predator that will fight for Belle. By Gaston doing this, in his eyes Belle is a sexual object that he must contain in order to fulfill his manly fantasies. Man needs woman in order to feel whole and subject. When Belle is a hostage in the beast’s castle, she has traded her freedom for fear. Belle becomes part of objectivity and accepts her place as a prisoner. The goal of the beast is to use Belle and to gain something, which is becoming human again and freeing himself from being a beast. When we think of a beast, we tend to think of one that dominates, and puts fear into people. The beast represented the male that is aggressive and violent towards women (oppressor). This is something that Belle needed to understand, and accept and see that the beast’s violent behavior and aggressiveness is something she had to get used to. Bestiality is then created between the two. Bestiality is known as “sexual relations between a human being and a lower animal” (“Merriam Webster Dictionary”). It is Belle that must learn and give up her norms of what love is, and to love a beast that represents ugliness and violence. It is her that must teach herself to accept what is given to her. After all it is the beast’s fate that relies on Belle’s openness to love him. It is not her beauty that gives him the freedom to become a prince and not a beast; it is the fact that Belle is a woman. Since she is a woman, this is what makes her a valuable entity to beast and makes him whole. Belle’s character represents the patriarchal structure of what women should be considered to be. She must be fearful of the male. Although Belle stands up to beast, she is still the other in the animation. There was a part in the animation where Belle decided to leave the castle, but then is surrounded by wolves and is about to get attacked. Beast sees this through his magical mirror and goes to save Belle from this disastrous moment. His motive is to become a hero, which Disney is most likely to represent in a male character. However, through this heroic moment, beast gets injured and Belle is only left to bring out the nurturing side of her. She takes care of his wounds and this then begins the loving relationship between beast and Belle.

From the beginning of the animation we see Belle as a feisty, loving, caring, and nurturing person. She does however stand up to the male characters in the animation, but during her first encounter with beast she was fearful and scared. She is a heroine in this animation, but is still left with the Disney representation of what a woman character should be. She is put in situations where she is in trouble, she is saved, she is domesticated, and nurturing. However, the Disney animation may seem to be circling around Belle, nonetheless the real story surrounds the beast’s journey in finding a woman to release him from his curse and to love again. Hence the title of the animation is Beauty and the Beast and not Belle and the Beast. The title is a representation of finding beauty in a beast and focusing on a “teaching” moment for the audience that beauty is a valuable treasure to have in order to love or to be loved. It is quite clear that Belle is portrayed as the other, and beast as the subject of the story, however Disney certainly attracts the audience, specifically women, to believe that this story was a fairy-tale ending and love story that allowed Belle to become a princess. This is the idea that Disney always has when creating a woman character. She will go through love, violence, nurtures, gives up her freedom, or something she enjoys; but these acts are okay since she becomes a princess. Which is ultimately a girl’s dream; becoming a princess.


Cinderella’s character also represents the beautiful woman who has wants and dreams in her life. However her stepmother and step sisters caused her oppressions. Cinderella’s duties are to firstly listen to her stepmother. She must clean, and become a servant to her “family” members. Her stepmother represents the witch-like characteristic’s that is forceful in order to gain something. Cinderella represents the selfless and motherly woman who is denied to become anything but a servant. She is also capable of speaking to animals such as birds and mice. This is also a representation of a woman who is incapable of associating with humans, and only has a voice when it comes to speaking to animals. She is also nurturing and mother-like with animals, which is why these animals tend to come to her with ease. With a ball coming up to attend to, the stepmother refuses to allow Cinderella to join them to go to the prince’s ball. The prince uses this ball as a way to find his future wife. Women dress in their best gowns and show off their beauty in hopes of getting chosen to be a wife. This sounds just like The Bachelor, where women are to represent beauty and have personality traits that fits the bachelor in order to be chosen and given the final rose and marriage proposal. The only way Cinderella was granted to go to this ball was to be transformed in a princess-like image, since her stepmother destroyed her original gown.

Her fairy godmother changed her destiny by turning a pumpkin into a carriage, and had the mice make her a new dress to look like the other woman who were attending the ball. She had the princess image and was ready to attend the ball. However her fairy godmother told her she must leave by midnight or else she will transform back into her old image. When she arrived at the ball she was able to meet the prince, and soon after the prince was falling for her. Of course this then becomes the fairy-tale story that every girl wants. Unfortunately for Cinderella the clock struck twelve and she had to run away from the prince, only to leave behind her glass slipper. The princes duty was to find the matching foot of his future princess in order to fulfill his destiny of being with his beautiful princess. The women in this story are obsessed with the idea of being the princess. They have to look their best, and they have to look like a princess. Cinderella, even though she is a loving and caring woman, and has a destiny of her own that she wants to fulfill, is still categorized in what a Disney princesses journey has to be like in order for her to be with her love; the prince. Cinderella was only viewed as an object in her stepmothers’ eyes. Of course this treatment to Cinderella was because she was much prettier than her daughters. However, Disney has created these characteristics on purpose, and possibly not to make it obvious that Cinderella represented a servant, but to showcase the socially constructed feminine roles of what a woman should be.  After all, Cinderella’s troubles and tribulations still lead her to a dream comes true and a happily ever after ending, which is becoming a princess to her prince charming.


Disney has become a significant role in many people’s lives. Adults are still attached to the very characters that gave them the meaning of fantasy and imagination. Disney allows those to take the animations realities and make them part of our fantasies, in hopes of it becoming our realities. Walt Disney has created a growing industry that has transformed into one of the biggest forms of entertainment. The most intriguing part of Disney, is the fact that it still exists whether old fairy-tales, or newly produced fairy-tales.

Although there are numerous researches on the effectiveness of Disney on the audience, I took this analysis as a way to really dig deep into something I was once and still fairly enlightened by. These Disney animations that I have discussed were animations that I grew up with. The little Mermaid was one of my favorites, and made me want to be a mermaid. Belle in Beauty and the Beast is a beautiful woman, smart and daring, something I was also intrigued by. Jasmine from Aladdin also held a beautiful persona about her. It wasn’t the idea that she was a princess that made me like her; it was the fact that she was beautiful. This then also points out that not only are these women princesses, they are beautiful, and something girls look up to, and try to be. Finally, I wasn’t really into Cinderella, but I do remember watching it on television. I didn’t like the fact that she was treated badly by her stepmother, however I did like the magical aspect of being granted a night of fantasy turned into reality for her. As a child I never really wanted to be a princess, I was just attracted to the beauty of these women, and how they did hold special qualities, that unfortunately are not highlighted as much. We should also notice how these women have only male characters in their lives. Their mothers are not shown, or even explained if they even have mothers in their lives. It is always the father who is projected more in these characters lives.

These are old animations that still exist in our society today. During Halloween the amount of princesses that little girls dress up in is amazing. The idea that these little girls want to be a princess is what is being taught to them at a younger age, and unfortunately carried with them throughout their adult years. Even though some of these woman characters represent a tough and beautiful characteristic, they are still portrayed as the other, and domesticated. The feminine roles are definitely presented in these Disney characters, the same as what a woman’s role represents today. Men characters in Disney represent the prince charming and hero that saves the day. He has masculine characteristics, and one that tends to dominate in the storylines and is the reason why these women become princesses. Women are seen as emotional, nurturing, and motherly characters.

These Disney characters do represent present-day women, and it is very interesting to see how it does affect young girls idea of what a fairy-tale is. Women tend to think of their love lives having a fairy-tale ending, or a princess-like wedding. Hence the puffy dresses, crowns, and limousine as the carriage that will transport her from her home to the castle (church, or banquet hall).  When looking at Ariel, Jasmine, Belle, and Cinderella, they all hold similar characteristics. They are beautiful, very petite and skinny, beautiful hair, batting eyes, domesticated, and finally they all are becoming a princess. However, in order for them to be that princess they all went through some sort of troubling situation to captivate that princess role. Their roles were always the other, and then created into a subject or something close to it. Disney animation affects young girls and women today because it makes them see that no matter how patriarchal ways affects their lives, or how objectified or domesticated they are, it is okay, because the final reward is finding true love and a fairy-tale ending. I cringe when I hear a mother or father call their daughter “my little princess” or “daddy’s princess”. The moment you call them a princess at a young age, the more these little girls begin to believe that she is destined to be a princess or treated like one. The idea that we want to project to little girls and even women, is that you do not have to be objectified in order to get what you want. There are ways to remove what society sees in you already, and women should not accept these socially constructed roles given to them or fulfilled in order to appear feminine. However, women should be able to choose how they want their lives and not what is expected of them. Yes, domesticity is something  women tend to fulfill because it does become our duties in the household, or to become mothers. However, if you are doing it because you choose to, and not because someone tells you it’s your job, then there is no harm in this. Disney is something that I am sure will be around for many, many years. I know that Disney Princesses will also be around, and stories will be shared. However, we have to be able to reject what these storylines are really trying to portray. Perhaps newer animations are in need in order to fulfill a better idea of what women should be. I am sure there are animations out there that do represent heroines who do not fulfill the princess expectations, but unfortunately they are not appreciated as much as Ariel, Jasmine, Cinderella, and Belle. I am sure the perpetuation of Disney will always exist, and I am not saying I will not watch Disney, I am just stating the portrayals of women in these Disney animations. It may be hard for some to let go of something that is so dear to them, but an alternative to making our young girls feel special/wanted is needed.

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Artz, Lee. Animating Hierarchy: Disney and The Globalization of Capitalism. (2002): 1.1 Global Media Journal.

Brookes, Douglass, S. The Concubine, The Princess, and The Teacher.: Voices From the Ottoman Harem. (2008). University of Texas Press: Austin.

Meriam Websters Dictionary. (2012). “Bestiality”. http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/bestiality

The Walt Disney Company Report. (2011). The Walt Disney Company Reports Fourth Quarter and Full Year Earnings for Fiscal 2011. corporate.disney.go.com/corporate/pdfs/Q411_PR_FINAL.pdf