No More Violence, No More Silence

“Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, but that’s alright because I like the way it hurts, just gonna stand there and hear me cry but that’s alright because I love the way you lie, I love the way you lie.” Sounds familiar?  Yes, these are the lines in the chorus of the popular song Love the Way Yoy Lie that Rihanna and Eminem released in 2010 in Eminem’s album Recovery.  This song, together with its music video, represents an example of gendered violence.  Specifically, this song portrays intimate partner violence (IPV) in a romantic relationship in which a man (Eminem’s voice) abuses his girlfriend (Rihanna’s voice).  Yet, is this song and example of media glorifying intimate partner violence?  Or is this song trying to inform the public about how intimate partner violence works and the reasons that make individuals stay in these destructive relationships?

How does IPV affect victims and society overall?

Intimate partner violence is everybody's problem

The Center for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) reports that based on The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) conducted in 2010, 24 people per minute suffer from sexual assault, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States.  This is the equivalent to more than 12 million women and men a year.  These findings indicate that intimate partner violence is a significant and widespread health problem in the United States.  The CDC also reports that women are more likely to become victims of intimate partner violence than men.  In 2007, of the 2,340 people who died from intimate partner violence, 70% were women and 30% were men.  Furthermore, according to the CDC, one in four women (25%) has experienced intimate partner violence in her lifetime.  Finally the CDC reports that about 74% Americans know someone who suffers from intimate partner violence.

As Ann L. Coker and her colleagues explain in their article Physical and Mental Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence for Men and Women, some health implications of suffering intimate partner violence include depression, anxiety, substance abuse, chronic disease, chronic mental illness, and injury. Coker and her colleagues explain that for both men and women, psychological abuse is linked to chronic mental illness, depressive symptoms, and anxiety.  On the other hand, physical abuse is associated with injury and chronic diseases such as chronic pain, osteoarthritis, and severe headaches.  Substance abuse is strongly associated with both physical and psychological intimate partner violence.  Their findings also suggest that women are likely to experience both physical and psychological health implications while men are more likely to only suffer psychological health consequences.  This is due to the fact that the majority of men suffer from psychological and verbal IPV but rarely from physical violence.  Finally, Coker and her colleagues stress the importance of detecting IPV in its early stages so that we can avoid and/or reduce its impact on physical and mental health.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), intimate partner violence has global consequences as well.  The NCADV reports that since 2003, intimate partner violence has cost the United States approximately $5.8 billion per year including medical care, mental health services, and lost productivity.  The NCADV also explains that although IPV has a clear individual and global negative impact on society, the majority of IPV cases are never reported to the police.  The NCADV specifies that only about 25% of all physical assaults, 20% of all rapes, and 50% of all stalking conducted against women by intimate partners are testified to the police.  Finally, the NCADV highlights that in the United States, some current regulations present problems when it comes to determining what consists IPV.  For instance, some states require the offender and victim to be married, live together, or have a mutual child in order to consider it IPV and some others ignore gay and lesbian partners in their intimate violence partner laws.

However, the United States government is working to create laws that better protect the rights and well-being of victims of intimate partner violence.  Jonathan Weisman, in his article Senate Votes to Renew Violence Against Women Act, explains that on April 26th of 2012, the Senate voted to reauthorize an improved version of the Violence Against Women Act.  This law provides legal system responses such as programs, funding, and law reforms against intimate partner violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.  This law has been reauthorized many times since it was created (in 1994) in order to provide the best definition of all these different types of gendered violence.  This last reauthorization extended the reach of Violence Against Women Act to American Indians, gay, bisexual, and transgendered victims. The senate overwhelmingly voted this regulation with 51 democrats and 15 republicans forming the 68 final votes in favor versus only 31 against votes.  With this new reauthorization, the new Violence Against Women Act is much more inclusive than ever before.

Why do victims stay in such destructive relationships?

The cycle of intimate partner violence

Communications Studies and gender scholar Julia T. Wood in her textbook Gendered Lives defines intimate partner violence as romantic relationships in which one partner physically, emotionally, psychologically, and/or sexually abuses the other partner. Eminem’s and Rihanna’s song and its music video portray intimate partner violence within a romantic relationship in which a man (Eminem’s voice and actor Dominic Monaghan) abuses his girlfriend (Rihanna’s voice and actress Megan Fox).  Wood explains that victims have a hard time leaving relationships with intimate partner violence because these develop in a cycle. Wood explains that the cycle of intimate partner violence has four stages.  Stage one, called Tension, occurs when tension accumulates and one partner psychologically and verbally abuses the other one by blaming him or her for all of his or her problems.  Stage two, called Explosion, occurs when tension explodes into physical violence such as battering, slapping, or shoving.  In stage three, called Remorse, the abuser feels sorry and is full of regret.  During this stage the abuser typically apologizes to the victim and promises not to do it again.  Finally, in stage four, also called Honeymoon, the abuser becomes loving and caring towards the victim.  This continues until tension builds up and the cycle begins again.  According to Wood, during Remorse the victim remembers the good person that he or she fell in love with and during Honeymoon the victim believes the abuser’s promises and regains hope on the relationship.  Often, victims try to cause Explosion in order to accelerate the process into the Honeymoon stage in which they enjoy their relationship.

Is the song informing audiences and promoting change?

Eminem and Rihanna in the music video of the song

The song Love the Way You Lie clearly shows the four different phases of the cycle of intimate partner violence.  Tension is shown through verses like “Right now there is steel knife in my windpipe” and “Drunk from the hate.”  Explosion is shown through verses such as “You push pull each other’s hair/ Scratch, claw, bite ’em/ Throw ’em down/ Pin ’em.” Remorse is shown in verses like “I feel so ashamed,” “I’ll never stoop so low again,” “But you promised her/ Next time you’ll show restrain,” “Don’t you hear sincerity in my voice when I talk,” “Next time, there would be no next time,” and “I apologize, even though I know it’s lies.”  Honeymoon is portrayed in verses like “’Cause when it’s going good/ It’s going great/ I’m Superman/ With the wind in his bag/ She’s Lois Lane.”  In addition, several verses show the cycle nature of intimate partner relationships “Where are you going/I’m leaving you/ No, you ain’t/ Come back/ We are running right back/ Here we go again/ It’s so Insane.”  Finally, the chorus in which Rihanna tells Eminem that she likes the pain and loves the lies can be understood as Rihanna provoking Explosion in order to come back to the Honeymoon phase.  Since the song clearly represents the cycle of intimate partner relationship, it can be argued that it portrays the very common tragedy of intimate partner violence in an attempt to create public awareness and instigate action against this practice.

Since Rihanna was assaulted by her ex-boyfriend and singer Chris Brown in 2009, many journalists have asked the R&B and pop star about the reasons that brought her to partner with Eminem in this song.  Damien Pearse published an article titled Rihanna teams up with Eminem in domestic violence video in the newspaper The Guardian in which he talks about Rihanna’s declarations regarding this song.  Pearse explains that Rihanna fell in love with Eminem’s song from the beginning.  Rihanna stated “He (Eminem) pretty much just broke down the cycle of domestic violence and it touches a lot of people.”  Pearse also explains that Rihanna claimed that this song is something she felt she needed to do to help other victims of intimate partner violence.  In her own words, “The clip aims at highlighting the dangers of an abusive relationship and, indirectly, delivers the message that it’s better to walk out before it’s too late.” Therefore, Rihanna supports the idea that the goal of this song is to raise awareness about how intimate partner violence works in order for victims and society to take action against it.

Or is the song normalizing and glorifying IPV?

However, Wood also explains that media tends to normalize violence towards women.  She argues that there is increasing evidence that media portrayals of violence contribute to growing violence exerted by men in real life situations.   From this point of view it can be argued that Eminem’s and Rihanna’s song is glorifying intimate partner violence. For example, the fact that the music video mixes scenes of violence and sex continuously, can lead to audiences perceiving intimate partner violence as “sexy” and therefore appealing.  In addition, the song finishes with Rihanna singing the chorus “Cause I like the way it hurts” and “Cause I love the way you lie” after Eminem threatens to kill her in the line “If she ever tries to f* leave again/Imma tie her to the bed/And set this house on fire.”  Thus, this could lead to audiences understanding that women are supposed to accept intimate partner violence and learn to live with it.  As a result, the repeated listening to this and other similar songs could lead victims to accept their unhealthy relationship instead of speaking up and looking for help.

Music video of the song with Megan Fox and Dominic Monaghan

In his conference paper Sex and Violence Makes Me Yawn: Autonomic Desensitization to Music Videos, Paul Bolls and his colleagues support the idea that media normalizes violence.  First, Bolls and his colleagues notice that music videos, especially rap music videos, contain high levels of sex and violence.  Second, they argue that repeated exposure to sex and violent content in media causes a desensitization effect.  This effect consists of individuals who are heavy viewers (more than 4 hours a day) of media with high levels of violent and sexual content, such as rap music videos, becoming significantly less bothered and/or concerned by violence and sex. Finally, the researchers argue that individuals who experiment desensitization are more likely to accept violence from others as normal, and to use and/or tolerate violence in order to solve personal and/or social problems.  For example, Eminem’s and Rihanna’s music video, by portraying a romantic relationship in which partners continuously hit and push each other, can lead to audiences becoming less disturbed when they see real life violent situations between intimate partners or to even understand this as normal when it happens in their own romantic relationships.

Speaking up

Whatever your interpretation of the song and music video is, the most important thing is to listen to or watch it with a critical attitude.  Wood explains that society is a human creation that we constantly reshape through our interactions in private and public situations.  For this reason, we need to understand that we are all crucial players in shaping the meaning of gender and what it means to be a woman and a man in contemporary and future societies.  Wood explains that one way to exercise power towards change is through voiceVoice refers to communicating with others and getting involved in everyday acts of opposition against gendered practices that are sexist and restrictive. For example, Sandra M. Stith raised her voice by publishing a book called Prevention of Intimate Partner Violence in which she presents specific measures and programs that individuals and communities can take to fight against IPV.

Another way to raise your voice is by joining organizations that fight against intimate partner violence by helping its victims.  For instance, Albor Ruiz, journalist of the Daily News, published and article titled Safe Horizon launches Spanish language website to aid victims of violence and crime in which he explains the last action that the organization against violence Safe Horizon has taken to help victims.  According to Safe Horizon, many Hispanic victims of IPV living in the United States struggle to find help because they do not speak English.  For this reason, Ruiz explains that Safe Horizon launched a new website in Spanish to help victims of IPV and other types of violence find resources and services available.  The organization accepts financial help and volunteers who want to join their cause.

Take action!

Intimate partner violence is a very widespread problem that deeply affects victim’s health and society overall.  As we have seen, media violent content that portrays IPV, such as Eminem’s and Rihanna’s song and music video, can have multiple interpretations.  Media portrayals of IPV can serve to create awareness and instigate change but can also lead to normalize violence and desensitize individuals who are heavy viewers of this kind of media.  For this reason, the most important thing is to always hold a very critical attitude when consuming media with violent content. If we are critical about media content and real life situations we can raise our voice against those practices we consider unfair.  I estimate that it took you about 5-10 minutes to read this blog post.  While you were reading about 120- 240 people were victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner.  For this reason I encourage you to raise your voice against intimate partner violence. You can choose to join organizations such as Safe Horizon or the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, or you can simply engage in everyday acts against intimate partner violence such as educating yourself and others about this problem.

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“No Pain, No Gain”

Picture your worst physical flaw. Yes, that physical imperfection that you hate so much and wish you could change every morning when you look in the mirror.  Got it? Okay, keep it in mind as I ask you three questions.  How much would you pay to get it fixed?  How much pain would you be willing to go through in order to change it?  And, how much would you be willing to risk your health in order to correct it?  For many Chinese women and men the answers to these questions are 40,000 dollars, excruciating and agonizing pain, and being crippled.  I am talking about leg strengthening, a surgical operation that became popular in China a few years ago.  This procedure consists of breaking patients’ legs and stretching them using a rack over several months in order to make these individuals taller.

Becoming Taller

Patient who underwent leg-lenghtening surgery

As Jonathan Watts explains in his article called China’s Cosmetic Surgery Craze, many Chinese women and some Chinese men turn to different types of surgery in order to resemble Western ideals of beauty they see portrayed in media. Some of these surgical operations include nose lengthening, jaw remodeling, eyelid surgery, and leg lengthening.  Watts explains that height is highly valued in China to the extent that many jobs require a minimum height (5ft 7in for men and 5ft 3in for women) and taller women have increasingly more chances to get married.  Thus, leg lengthening surgery can increase short people’s opportunities to get a good job and a spouse.  However, Watts also explains that leg lengthening is very dangerous because it can cause several complications including being crippled, limp, having feet pointing in different directions, bones not strong enough to support the body weight, bones that break easily and repeatedly, and nerve damage.

Is it Worth the Risk?

Anne Marie Dorning, a journalist of the ABCNews, interviewed patients who underwent leg lengthening.  In her article Controversial and Grueling Procedure Lenghtens Limbs, Risks Lives she also explains that the main reason to get leg lengthening for men is to become more competitive in the business world and for women is to increase the likelihood to find a husband. Dorning interviewed a guy who said “I decided it would be a good investment for my business career, and it really helped my confidence” and a girl who explained “It was really tough to find a date. I didn’t know a single other guy who was my height and I was really insecure about it.”  On the other hand, China Daily published an article called China Bans Leg-lenghtening Surgery that explains that this surgery is so dangerous that China’s government banned it in 2006.  The government argued that doctors, such as those working in Beijing Hospital promised patients “height surgery without pain” when reality was very different.  In addition, a high percent of cases had complications that led to irreparable damages to the patients.  Nonetheless, China Daily states that unauthorized medical institutions could possibly still be conducting this risky surgery.

Why Does This Happen?

Media encourages us to measure ourselves against unrealistic standards

At this point you might be asking yourself, why would they do this?  Well, Communications Studies and gender scholar Julia T. Wood in her textbook Gendered Lives talks about the concept of “pathologizing the human body” to explain cases like this one.   Wood explains that “pathologizing the human body” refers to the fact that media pushes us to measure ourselves against artificial standards and also encourages us to understand normal healthy bodies and functions as pathologies. For example, Watts explains that different types of media, such as advertisements for jobs requiring minimum height, encourage Chinese men and women to try to resemble unrealistic Western ideals of beauty which are taller.  For this reason, individuals who have perfectly healthy bodies understand their height as a pathology that is restricting their business and personal opportunities.  As a result, as Dorning’s article explains, some of them turn to services, such as surgery, to fix their unreal pathology.

What Can We Do?

First of all, we need to understand that although this is a very scandalous case of pathologizing the human body, it is not an isolated phenomenon.  Pathologizing the human body not only happens to Chinese people but to everybody including you, me, and many people in the United States. Different types of media such as television shows, radio programs, and magazine advertisements constantly influence us to believe that we need services and products to fix all the unreal “problems” that according to them we have.  Some of these indispensable services and products that media tries to sell us are very unnecessary.  Do I really need the 20 different kinds of makeup to carry in my purse daily? No.  Thus, the next time we are about to buy a product or service, why don’t we ask ourselves: Do I really need it? Or am I only purchasing it in an attempt to resemble an unrealistic ideal portrayed in the media?

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Crazy Stupid Masculinity Norms

“Your wife cheated on you because you lost sight of who you are as a man.” That is what Jacob (Ryan Gosling) tells Carl (Steve Carell) in the movie Crazy Stupid Love. Carl is a sensitive middle-aged man who loves his wife and spending time with his kids. One day his wife asks him for a divorce after cheating on him. He is completely depressed until he meets Jacob, who offers to help him rediscover his manhood by teaching him the basic rules of being a “real man.” These rules include being independent, assertive, and getting with many women. As a result of their friendship, Carl starts to embody all these manhood rules, while Jacob learns that there are other important things in life such as real love.

Jacob telling Carl he needs to embody manhood to regain his wife

Modern Masculinity is Paradoxical

As Jessica Bennett explains in her article “In ‘Mansome,’ Morgan Spurlock Takes on Modern Masculinity” on The Daily Beast, masculinity is expanding and embracing many new traits such as personal care and sensitivity. Bennett talks about how masculinity is changing by presenting the new movie Mansome that portrays masculinity traits that have become popular in the past years. Kevin Alexander Boon in his article titled Heroes, Metanarratives, and the Paradox od Masculinity in Contemporary Western Culture that in their strive to be successful, modern men face a paradox that offers them only two alternatives: to reject traditional gender norms of masculine behavior, risking being considered less than a man by society; or to embody both traditional and modern practices which is a very difficult goal and will most likely result in failure. According to Julia Scelfo and her article Men & Depression: Facing Darkness on Newsweek, men’s failure to fulfill the contradictory expectations of society results in depression and a high rate of suicide. Men are nearly four times more likely to die committing suicide than women, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Masculinity Traditional Themes

Communications Studies and gender scholar Julia T. Wood explains that according to James A. Doyle and his book The Male Experience, masculinity has five main traits including Don’t Be a Female, Be Successful, Be Aggressive, Be Sexual, and Be Self-Reliant. In other words, according to Doyle, masculinity is based on becoming the opposite of femininity, being a winner and a provider, dominating situations with confidence, being very interested in sex, and being independent. In Crazy Stupid Love, when Jacob tries to get Carl to regain his manhood, he teaches him how to embody all these traits. One of the funniest scenes is when Jacob teaches Carl to Be Sexual. Carl tells Jacob that he has only been with one woman, his ex-wife, his whole life. Jacob answers that “real men” have many sexual partners and then teaches Carl tricks to get with many women.  The trailer of the movie shows how Jacob tries to teach Carl to embrace traditional masculinity traits.

Carl after turning into the “real man” Jacob wants him to be

Contradictory Expectations

Wood explains that today’s definition of masculinity involves a sixth trait: “Embody and transcend traditional views of masculinty.” This trait refers to the fact that contemporary men are expected to embrace traditional masculine practices and non-traditional masculine practices at the same time. In my opinion, the end of Crazy Stupid Love is a good example of this value. Jacob has been portrayed throughout the movie as the traditional “real man” and Carl embodies the modern man who is emotional and spends time at home playing with his kids. As a result of their friendship both change their practices and values towards the opposite of how they were which makes them argue and breaks their friendship. However, at the end of the movie, both characters understand each other motives to change their identities and end up solving their problems. I think that the end of the movie shows how modern men suffer inconsistent pressures from society that sometimes confuses them about their identities and roles.

What Can We Do?

Even though we live in a society that tends to favor men and masculine values, it is important that we realize that contemporary cultural views also challenge men by imposing contradictory expectations on them. Since we know that such opposing expectations can lead to terrible consequences such as depression or suicide, we need to be supportive of men who struggle to develop their gender identity. However, we need to also realize that masculinity having multiple roles is something positive that could lead to the replacement of masculinity norms that are oppressive with egalitarian non-traditional values. For this reason we all need to encourage individuals to adopt masculine roles, either traditional  or non-traditional, that result in fuller lives for everyone.

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“Yes, it’s a Boy!”

How many times have you heard a man saying “I want a boy” when asked about his desires regarding having children; I personally lost count a long time ago. My parents always wanted to have two kids. My mother had my older sister and then lost a son while giving birth before having me. For this reason and since I heard that my dad really wanted a boy, I always felt a little guilty and bad for him. However, after reading and learning about communication, gender, and culture I realized that I should not feel bad at all. Why is it that men want to have boys? Is this desire a social construct? Does patriarchy play an important role in this preference?

Statistics & Implications

According to a Gallup Poll conducted in 2011, American men aged 18 and older prefer to have a boy rather than a girl, by a 40% to 28% margin. On the contrary, American women show no preference over children’s sex at all ages. The findings also show that republicans, conservatives, and less educated men report higher preferences of wanting a boy than democrats, liberal, and more educated men. Finally, a study conducted by Enrico Moretti and Gordon B. Dhal called The Demand for Sons: Evidence from Divorce, Fertility, and Shotgun Marriage, shows that families who already have two children are more likely to have another child if all their children are female.

Boys are the desire or "target" of many parents

Moretti and Dhal also explain that, unfortunately, children sex-preference occurs not only in the United States but also world-wide including countries like China, Vietnam, Mexico, Colombia, and Kenya. The researchers add that in many developing countries women seem to also prefer males. According to R. Muthulakshmi and his book Female Infanticide, the implications of this phenomenon in developing countries such as India are practices such as female infanticide which refers to the practice of killing baby girls because of their sex. Finally, Mara Hvistendahl in who wrote the book Unnatural Selection Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World full of Men explains that another consequence of this phenomenon is a global demographic imbalance between sexes towards men. This can lead to the increase of prostitution, kidnappings, sex trafficking, rapings, and violence towards females.

Why?

As explanations for this phenomenon, some parents argue that boys make more money and can help support a family better. Some men say that a boy will ensure the family name passes to another generation.  Some say that boys are simply easier to raise.  I think that the overall and underlying explanation for this phenomenon is that we live in patriarchal societies that embrace all these traditional values. The Communication Studies and gender scholar Julia T. Wood in her textbook Gendered Lives explains that patriarchal societies and cultures are based on male dominance that tends to give privileges to men and to undermine women. Thus, the fact that patriarchal societies place a higher value on the male sex affects parents’ wants. Wood uses the example of women who take their husbands’ name after marriage as an example of a practice that conveys the idea that women are defined by their relationship to a man and therefore subordinated to them. A  nother example is the fact that men argue boys are easier to raise. Well, easier for whom? Again, this idea is patriarchal in the sense that it holds men’s convenience over women’s convenience.  This is a video produced by Daniel Tosh that makes fun of the privileges and qualities that patriarchal societies attribute to men. Finally, analyzing this phenomenon in terms of patriarchy helps us understand why Republican, conservative, and less educated people (groups who tend to hold patriarchal ideas closer) showed higher preference over the male sex in the study conducted by Moretti and Dhal.

What Can We Do?

We can create a cultural system based in equality among sexes

In conclusion, I argue that the patriarchal societies we live in influence the desires of many parents, especially men, who want to have a boy because it is the sex that society favors. However, I callenge all of them to use the energy and effort they put into having a boy, into fighting for equal rights among sexes. The good news is that, since patriarchy is a social construct, we can create a fairer cultural system so that one day future generations will not have to worry about their children’s sex. Maybe one day the only thing that parents of the future will enthusiastically yell when they see their children will be “Yes, it is a beautiful baby!”

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Marta, from Spain to Farmville & “Growing a Pair” on the Way

My name is Marta Pinyol Davi and I am from Barcelona, a beautiful city in the Mediterranean coast of Spain.  Next semester I will be a senior of Communication Studies and Psychology at Longwood University.  Communications Studies has always been my main interest and the field ofwork I want to pursue as my career.  Psychology is a very interesting degree that, in my opinion, complements Communications Studies perfectly.  I love studying at Longwood University because the classes are small and the professors really care about you. In addition, Longwood is a very involved campus and my life has been enriched from belonging to several organizations including Lambda Pi Eta and Psi Chi.  I also enjoy being a student-athlete, participating on the Women’s Tennis Team because it keeps me in shape while also giving me the opportunity to travel to other universities and discover other States.  Longwood has recently been accepted into the Big South Conference and I am really looking forward to the challenging schedule it will give us.  I encourage everyone to support the different teams!

Me playing tennis at Longwood University

Being a student-athlete while double majoring is really challenging but I think that it is preparing me very well for the future. All the communications and psychology classes that I have taken so far have helped me develop a set of skills that will be crucial to getting a job in today’s competitive business world.  For example, last fall semester I took Applied Organizational Communication and learned how to prepare and conduct a communication audit for a company.  I found that class really interesting and now strategic consulting is one of the careers I might pursue when I graduate. This past spring semester I took Consumer Behavior, my favorite psychology class so far.  It completely applies to my communication studies and has taught me how American consumers think and different strategies in marketing products or services.  This past semester I have also done an internship with Uppidy, a communications enterprise that releases applications for smart phones.  My job with Uppidy consisted of marketing their new application to Longwood students, faculty, and staff.  Again, all the communications and psychology classes that I have taken so far have helped me, in one way or another, to do a good job every day.  Some of the classes that have been crucial in helping me succeed with my internship include Public Speaking, Interpersonal Communication, Persuasion Theory, Consumer Behavior, and Human Factors.

I have lived in different countries, traveled to many other ones, and love learning about new places and cultures around the world.  However, it always saddens me that every country that I have visited or read about holds a prevailing sexist attitude.  I realize that most developed societies have progressed towards gender equality but at the same time it
frustrates me that there is still a long way to go.  What especially gets to me is the great amount of sexist verbal expressions that exist in both English and Spanish (and probably most other languages), and how often we use them without even realizing the harm that they do.  A good example of this is a Spanish expression my family and friends use to compliment me.  The expression is “Tener un par de huevos”, which literally means “To have a pair of balls”.  They use it to compliment me for being brave by going to the states to get a degree by myself.  However, I think it is sexist because it attributes bravery to the male sex and I don’t think it should be a socially accepted expression.  I am really looking
forward to taking this class because I want to learn how to use my communications studies to make a positive impact towards gender equality on people surrounding me and the world overall.

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Love Is Blind, But You Are Not!

She is thin and pretty. He is tall and strong. She is elegant and polite. He is attentive and patient. She is sweet and takes care of him. He makes her feel protected and loved. She always knows what to say to comfort him. He always makes her laugh. She supports his career and his goals. He buys her expensive and amazing presents. They both wear nice clothes and live in beautiful homes. They always know what the other thinks or wants. They trust and respect each other. They both understand and support each other no matter what. Their conflicts always lead to sweet reconciliations. Their respective undesirable behaviors are forgiven and forgotten. They would die for each other. They are absolutely in love with each other and will be forever because they were made for each other. Sound familiar? Yes, you are watching a romantic movie! But reality is not that pretty, is it?

Today, media has a huge impact on society. For this reason we tend to look at the media to make sense of ourselves and others around us regarding important aspects of our lives, such as romantic relationships. Thus, although most of us know that the idea of a perfect relationship is unrealistic, we are still more influenced by media portrayals than we realize. According to Imagining Romance: Young People’s Cultural Models of Romance and Love, a study conducted by Dr. Christine M. Bachen and Dr. Eva Illouz, popular media serves as a significant source of information regarding romantic relationships, particularly for adolescents and young adults who have a propensity to hold cultural models of romance. They also report that 90% of young people look at movies to find information about love, while only 33% turn to their parents. Therefore, they argue that, given the exaggerated nature of media portrayals, individuals who use media sources to shape their relationship beliefs and expectations can feel that their own relationships do not measure up to those observed in the media.

Experts affirm that the expectations that the media generates around love in comparison with the real complexities of romantic relationships create tension and pressure to romantic partners. BBC News reports that Hollywood idealized portrayals of love can deeply affect interpersonal communication within romantic relationships. BBC News explains how relationship counselors often face common misconceptions about interpersonal communication within romantic relationships with their clients. Common misconceptions include the idea that romantic partners who are made for each other should automatically communicate effectively, in other words, the thought that if your partner loves you, he or she should know what you want without saying (just like it happens in many movies). They found that this misconception leads to other common mistaken beliefs such as the idea that sex between true romantic partners should always be perfect.

CNN contributes to the idea that romantic movie portrayals often create pressure for romantic relationships. CNN offers the testimony of men who felt undermined by the male character of the romantic film “The Notebook,” Noah. Petty, the article’s writer, explains that the exaggerated and magnificent gestures of love and commitment he shows throughout the whole movie set standards too high for men’s behavior in romantic relationships. For instance, in order for Noah to win Allie’s heart, he gives her the house of her dreams that he assiduously has rebuilt himself. Thus, Petty argues that this movie causes too high of an expectation for women and damages men’s confidence and motivation in romantic relationships.

Noah and the house he meticulously rebuilds and gives to Allie in order to win her heart from the romantic moview “The Notebook.”

This link shows shortcuts of different scenes from the movie “The Notebook” that include: when Allie tells Noah about the house of her dreams, when Noah is building the house, and when Noah gives her the house. By Ashlee

In their study Contradictory Messages: A Content Analysis of Hollywood-Produced Romantic Comedy Feature Films, researchers Ph. D. Student Kimberly R. Johnson and Associate Professor Bjarne M. Holmes, argue that romantic films not only provide unreal depictions of romantic relationships, but also provide contradictory messages about conflict and tension within couples. They found that romantic films represent romantic relationships as having both characteristics of new and long-term relationships, like intense passion and strong loyalty. They also detected that romantic movies tend to reduce the consequences of undesirable behaviors such as cheating or lying. For all these reasons, the researchers state that media portrayals of romantic relationships do not reflect those typical of reality and can therefore be misleading for viewers. 

This idea is supported by Romance Media and Relationship Destiny, another study conducted by Bjarne M. Holmes. After interviewing a sample of 249 undergraduate students, he argues that most tend to assume that the characteristics of relationships that usually take time to develop, such as a strong level of commitment, should be present in relationships from the very beginning. Hence, they will have the propensity to underestimate the quality of their own relationships. In addition, he found that the media’s idealized portrayals of romantic relationships persuade young people to believe in destiny, soul mates, and “mind reading.” The researcher also explains that since adolescents and young adults lack much experience in the field, they are more vulnerable to be negatively affected by media portrayals.

In Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters, well-known Communication Studies researcher Dr. Julia T. Wood states that romantic love consists of three dimensions: intimacy, commitment, and passion. Intimacy involves feelings of closeness, bond, and affection; commitment is the decision to stay engaged in the relationship; and passion involves strong affirmative feelings and ardent desire for the other.  Wood explains that it is especially important to acknowledge the difference between commitment and passion. She explains that passion is involuntary and can progressively fade over time. On the other hand, she explains that commitment is an act of will that develops progressively and remains steady in the course of time. For this reason, she argues that romantic relationships based on commitment are more likely to remain together despite changing feelings or other challenges, while romantic relationships based on passion are subject to external circumstances. 

The problem with romantic movies is that they send contradictory messages about love, commitment, and passion. As Johnson and Holmes argue, romantic films portray romantic relationships as having both intense passion and high levels of commitment at the same time and from the very beginning. However, based on reality, relationships gain commitment gradually and experience passion through ups and downs. As Wood states, healthy romantic relationships understand and accept that the three dimensions of love will not always be present to their maxim extent but instead will interact, flow, and overlap. For this reason, she highlights the importance of developing intimacy in order to underlie commitment and passion. Therefore, by basing romantic relationships on passion and immediate commitment rather than on gradual commitment, flowing passion, and intimacy, romantic movies show unreal representations of romantic relationships. These dreamlike depictions can influence us to perceive our romantic relationships as lacking, especially when we exit the euphoric and passionate phase of the first years. 

The fact that people compare their own relationships with those portrayed in romantic relationships is due to the common practice of social comparisons. According to Wood, social comparisons occur when we evaluate ourselves by measuring our characteristics, abilities, and qualities in relation to others. Therefore, although most of us think that we just watch movies for pleasure, the truth is that we voluntarily or unconsciously compare our own relationships, practices, and experiences with those portrayed in films. For this reason, we need to take into account that comparing idealized and unreal portrayals of love with the difficulties and challenges of real romantic relationships is not a fair evaluation. We should always look for reasonable comparisons that can help us create a realistic perspective of our relationship and encourage us to improve it. As CNN articles’ testimonies prove, picking unfair comparisons, such as the main character of “The Notebook’s” extraordinary attention and dedication to his romantic partner, can lead us to lose confidence and motivation in our romantic relationships. 

The dangerous tendency of comparing ourselves with romantic movies’ unreal portrayals of love, can potentially detriment our relationships’ interpersonal communication. As the BBC News article shows, researchers and counselors have found interpersonal communication misconceptions related to romantic movies as recurrent themes. One recurrent theme that romantic movies convey is the idea that lovers who are made for each other are able to successfully communicate without words or effort. This view point can influence romantic partners to overlook the importance of working on developing effective interpersonal communication skills, which according to Wood is a crucial step in creating and maintaining healthy relationships. In his study “Romance Media and Relationship Destiny,” Holmes detects a recurrent unproductive communication practice enhanced by romantic movies; mind reading. Mind reading involves believing that one can understand another person’s thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. He explains that students think this is a positive practice between romantic partners that should be natural and expected between true lovers. Thus, by portraying soul mates as being able to read each others’ minds, the media contributes to the use of mind reading, a negative communication pattern that can lead to misunderstanding, resentment, and an overall disconfirming communication climate between romantic partners.

Sarcastic diagram that shows how romantic movies tend to belief that mind reading is expected between romantic partners. By Dante Stepherd.

Finally, it is also important to acknowledge that according to some experts, romantic movies can also help us improve our romantic relationships and overall love life. For instance, Time magazine reports that according to Phillip Hodson, a member of the British Association of Sexual & Relationship Therapists and of the London Marriage Guidance Council, romantic movies’ idyllic portrayals of love can also provide hope and inspiration, especially for those who are single. He affirms that “we need to live by stories that help us deal with tough realities,” and that “We all need hope in our lives. And Hollywood trades on hope.” 

In conclusion, there are several things we need to take into account the next time we watch a romantic movie. First, we need to realize that we will inevitably be influenced in someway by its messages and images. Second, we should try to avoid unfair social comparisons with the ideal romantic relationships the movie portrays. Third, we need to understand that real romantic relationships are way more complex than they appear to be portrayed in films. Therefore, we have to accept that we will face ups and downs in the relationship, difficult conflicts, and hard consequences to our unconstructive behaviors. For these reason we need to develop a wide range of interpersonal communication skills that help us effectively communicate with our romantic partner. Finally, we have to acknowledge that romantic movies are also a pleasurable way of entertaining us that can offer encouragement and new ideas that can make our love life better. So you know, Love is blind, but you are not! So take a critical point of view when watching romantic movies and you will benefit from their advantages while preventing them from negatively influencing your romantic relationships and overall love life.

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Nonverbal Communication Speaks Louder Than Words

Have you ever been so worried about what to say to persuade someone that you completely forgot to take into consideration how to say it? This happened to me this summer when I went to a job interview. I was so nervous thinking about all the things I would say to persuade the interviewer that I was the right candidate, that I completely forgot to pay attention to my nonverbal communication. Sometimes, when using persuasion, we give so much value to the power of our words that we forget to acknowledge the importance of displaying appropriate nonverbal skills. Today, persuasive communication is pervasive in our daily lives and it is crucial to understand the key role that nonverbal communication plays in it.

Although we may not be completely aware of it, we are constantly using persuasion within our interpersonal relationships. We use persuasion when we appeal to reasons, values, beliefs, and emotions to induce a listener or reader to think or act in a certain way. For example, by writing this blog I am trying to convince you about the importance of placing a high value on our nonverbal skills when trying to persuade others. Other examples of persuasion in our daily lives and within interpersonal relationships include a job interview, a romantic date, or a meeting with a professor to discuss the grade of an assignment. Since persuasion is omnipresent in our daily life, developing a wide range of persuasion skills can help us succeed in our personal and professional relationships. For this reason, it is important to bear in mind that a good set of persuasion skills must include effective nonverbal communication skills as well.

Nonverbal communication is an essential tool for seduction during a romantic date

In fact, in their study Making Message Recipients “Feel Right”: How Nonverbal Cues Can Increase Persuasion, Dr. Higgins (from Columbia University) and Assistant Professor Joseph Cesario (from Michigan State University) theorize that nonverbal cues are an essential element of persuasive appeals. They argue that when the nonverbal cues of the sender cause the receiver positive feelings, the receiver in this case is more likely to be persuaded by the message. This theory is supported by CTV news who in an article called Nonverbal Persuasion: Winning an Argument Without Words report that nonverbal persuasion is very effective because it is subtle and it works mostly on the unconscious. In addition, the article states that appropriate nonverbal messages are more powerful than words to diffuse tension during persuasion.  

In Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters, well-known Communication Studies researcher Dr. Julia T. Wood states that nonverbal communication, which encompasses all aspects of communication other than words (including kinesics, haptics, proxemics, chronemics, silence, artifacts, and physical appearance), deeply affects the meaning of our messages. She explains that we need to pay attention to nonverbal behaviors because they account for 65-93% of the total meaning of a message. She also explains that one of the differences between verbal and nonverbal communication is that nonverbal communication tends to be perceived as more credible. According to Wood, this is attributed to the fact that most of us think that nonverbal communication is more trustworthy when it comes to expressing true emotions. For example, the person that interviewed me this summer did not believe me when I was telling him that I was a confident and assertive person because my nonverbal behavior was conveying that I was very nervous and insecure. Therefore, Wood also provides good reasons for which nonverbal skills are essential when trying to persuade others. In addition, she affirms that nonverbal communication is not an innate quality, but rather a skill that we can develop if we work on it.

Nonverbal behaviors account for 65-93% of the total meaning of the message

In conclusion, it is important to realize that appropriate nonverbal communication is essential for effective persuasion. In addition, knowing that nonverbal communication is a skill that can be developed and improved can motivate us to monitor our nonverbal communication in order to expand our range of nonverbal communication skills. Thus, the next time you try to seduce the man or woman of your dreams on a romantic date or the next time you try to get an interviewer to offer you a job remember to pay attention to your nonverbal communication. The Nonverbal Communication Association (NCA) of the National Communication Association (NCA) provides a link on its website that allows you to test your nonverbal skills and to learn how to improve them. So, remember, nonverbal communication speaks louder than words!

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Love Makes a Family

My step-brother is gay and has been in a relationship with another man for three years. This year, they started the process to adopt a child. All my family fully supported his decision and we were all very happy and excited for him.  However, when my stepbrother’s in-laws heard of the news, they disapproved the decision and stated that children must have a mother.  My step-brother’s case shows the two sides of the debate concerning gay adoption: while some people is fighting for gay couples to have the same rights as heterosexual couples, others think that this practice should not be allowed since it deprives children from having both male and female role models.

I understand that this topic might seem irrelevant to people who are not gay and want to adopt a child. However, according to UNICEF’s 2011 report on orphans nowadays there are around 153 million orphans in the world. The lives of many of these children can improve if different countries around the world implement laws allowing gay couples to adopt. Thus, to consider that this topic concerns the rights and well-being of millions of people, including gay couples and orphans around the world, can help us realize the magnitude of the topic in question.

In fact, The Washington Post reports that, although each country carries its own laws for gay adoption, the number of countries where gay couples are legally allowed to adopt has noticeably increased over the last few years. The report also provides the two main reasons why courts are increasingly recognizing gay parenting. First, there is no data that supports the claim that children raised by gay parents fare worse than those raised by heterosexual couples.  The second reason is that experts have found out that denying gay partners the right to joint custody with a gay partner contributes to create a legal regime in which millions of children have one legal parent and one legal stranger.

 

Gay adoption representation with the Gay flag

In Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters, well-known Communication Studies researcher Dr. Julia T. Wood states that each society has a generalized other, which is the  general notion that a person has regarding the common values, understandings, and expectations held by others in a society. In the majority of cultures, heterosexuality is the “normal” sexual orientation. For this reason, most societies tend to give privileges to heterosexuals and disfavor people with other sexual orientations, for example by denying gay couples the opportunity to adopt a child. Dr Julia T. Wood also points out that societal groups generalized others’ views are arbitrary and therefore must be challenged when unproductive. People and organizations that resistance to values of societies’ generalized others that are unfair, such as The International Gay  Lesbian Rights Commission, promote change and prosperity in society.  For example, CNN reports that although the progress is slow, there has been a great deal of progress in the granting of rights to gays in the United States.  

In conclusion, it is important to notice that a society generalized other is arbitrary and ongoing, and therefore can be modified. Thus, even though there are many perspectives of the generalized other of our society that we do not share or approve, we can challenge them and change them. If gay couples would have not fought to challenge society’s views on sexual orientation in the past, nowadays my brother would not be able to adopt a child.  Thus, by modifying rigid values of our society that are unfair we help ourselves, the society as a whole, and future generations in creating a humanity where everyone is accepted for who they are.

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Who I Am & What I Do

My name is Marta Pinyol Davi and I just finished my sophomore year at Longwood. I am double majoring in Communication Studies and in Psychology. I am from Spain but I came to the United States to study because I was given the opportunity to play for Longwood’s Tennis Team. I always thought that going to a foreign country to study would be a great experience for me, and it has been! I love my two majors and I love my life at Longwood. In addition, I like American culture a lot, and through traveling with my team I have also gotten to know and experience other states other than Virginia such as North Carolina, Washington D.C., West Virginia, and South Carolina. Here is the link to Longwood Women’s Tennis Team so you can see our schedule for next season and come to support us! 🙂

Every communication class I have taken has provided me with many useful communication skills. For example, last semester, I took organizational communication and we had to prepare an event to raise money for a non-profit organization. During the process I learned the important role of interpersonal communication when individuals must organize themselves to accomplish goals. I also learned how to cultivate an organizational culture, how to develop an organizational brand, how to create positive and productive communication and work methods with my teammates, and how to address and resolve the client’s needs and concerns. Another class that has provided me with a crucial skill in the communication field is Public Speaking. This class helped me gain confidence when talking in a public setting or when presenting a class project, a skill that has been crucial for all of my college classes and my life in general.

In addition, double majoring has been enriching to my college experience, since it provides me with the opportunity to study two different fields that perfectly complement each other, and also allows me to gain a deeper insight in each area. Although sometimes people do not see a direct relation between my two majors, I think that they are extremely connected and I love studying both at the same time. Psychology theories and case studies always help me understand communication theories and concepts and vice versa. For example, last semester I took Theories of Personality while I was taking Conflict Communication. Learning about different personality types helped me understand why and how conflict is caused. At the same time, I learned techniques to solve conflict by viewing different personalities as a source of diversity rather than problem sources. Double majoring and being a student-athlete is definitely a big challenge, but I think I am making the most of my college experience and I am very proud of my performance thus far. This year I have received recognition for my efforts by receiving a Scholarship for Academic Excellence in Communication Studies.

Finally, I think that this class will be crucial to help me manage my interpersonal relationships in a more effective manner. Since I was born, I have lived in different countries and have experienced different cultures. As a result, I have been surrounded by very different people. Thus, I had to learn how to adapt to new cultures, to live apart from my family, and to be autonomous. My life experience has provided me with not only an open mind but also with the ability to tolerate and understand people that have different customs and beliefs than my own. However, there are still many aspects of my interpersonal relationships I wish to improve, and I think this class will be a great way to help me do so. I am especially excited to learn about interpersonal communication behavior within the professional field, since it is the type of behavior I am the most unfamiliar with, and I plan to enter the professional field in a few years.

Me playing tennis for Longwood

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