Appearance Trumps Theoretical Physics

Media Example

“The construction of self is not an insular, isolated activity, but is rather situation in a media and cultural context that involves a dynamic between the self and others, or in the case of YouTube, between video content and user feedback. Of course, this is not only a generational dynamic but also a gendered one” (Banet-Weiser 7).

In my POL 3310 Becoming Stupid: Anti-Science in U.S. Politics class, we recently discussed the underrepresentation of women in science, specifically in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). We were instructed to watch however much of the video above that we wanted but were required to review all of the comments. Some of these comments include:

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This simple assignment tells us a lot about YouTube, comments, and the policing and reinforcement of gender roles and norms via the Internet, as Sarah Banet-Weiser points out when she says, “This kind of feedback works to legitimate YouTube as a site for self-branding as it also contains girls and their gendered self-presentations within normative standards of judgment” (20). In this video posted by an international, non-profit, science education institution called the Aspen Institute, Professor Lisa Randell is explaining theoretical physics, a very difficult concept to grasp and talk about, even for those who enjoy physics. The fact that Professor Randell is able to articulate such difficult material in a way that is more accessible to the general public, as well as the fact that she is clearly a brilliant scholar, plays on neoliberalist, postfeminist rhetoric of empowerment, individualism, and “rising above” structural sexism to achieve amazing things. However, many of the YouTube comments under Professor Randell’s talk focus on her appearance and how she does/does not fit “proper” white feminine ideals instead of her academic achievements and role as a phenomenal communicator and public educator. Furthermore, these comments are outright sexist, appalling, disrespectful, and violent in so many ways, and this is just one of the millions of YouTube videos out there in cyberspace where people are surveillanced/policed/judged/punished for deviating from white supremacy ableist capitalist heteropatriarchal expectations and norms, as Banet-Weiser touches on in her essay.

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