Sexism and Media Coverage of Women’s Sports: March Madness, FIFA and Everything in Between

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Now that the Madness has died down and Villanova defeated UNC at the buzzer in the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament, and the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks beat the Quinnipiac Bobcats in this year’s Frozen Four, let’s direct our attention away from men’s professional sports for a brief moment (for a change) and address sexism in women’s sports media.

Much like in other sports, the female version of the NCAA March Madness tournament does not get nearly as much love as the men’s game. In 2011, for example, the women’s championship game received about 3.8 million viewers, compared to the 20.1 million who tuned in for the men’s finals. This may be because the women’s tournament is solely relegated to ESPN, while the men’s games are broadcasted on network television (and thus have wider exposure). Furthermore, the women’s games often conflict with the men’s schedule, and we all know who viewers will be opting to watch.

The disparity in men’s and women’s popularity for March Madness highlights how little fans care about women’s sports in general. While the men’s tournament has been enjoying historic highs, the physical attendance and TV viewership for the women’s league “remains abysmally low.” In general, men just don’t care about women’s sports, and apparently, neither do women.

College basketball isn’t the only place where you see this difference in sports media coverage across gender lines. Nearly 75% of all sports coverage is devoted to men’s basketball, pro and college football, and baseball – even when these sports are in their off-seasons. In 2014, SportsCenter, ESPN’s flagship sports broadcasting program, dedicated only 2% of its airtime to women’s athletics, a rate it has steadily maintained since 1999.

Whether at the high school, college, or professional level, women’s athletics always seems to draw criticism. “The game is too slow,” it’s too boring,” and “the level of competition just isn’t the same,” are common complaints about women’s sports. One longitudinal study points out that media outlets themselves may be responsible for why women’s sports are not as exciting as men’s. Everything from “the way the announcers speak” to “the narratives imposed by the networks” influences our perceptions of  women’s games. Men’s sports are presented in an excited and amplified manner, whereas women’s sports are portrayed in a lackluster and matter-of-fact way.

This is a classic catch-22 situation. Women’s sports don’t generate a lot of revenue because they don’t garner a lot of excitement from fans, but money has to be spent to get fans excited to be in the seats in the first place.

When it comes to sexism and wage disparity, FIFA is king. In 2015, the US women’s soccer team generated $20 million more than the men’s team, yet the female players earn four times less than the men do. The women’s team also receives less than half of the World Cup roster bonuses that the men’s team does.

This is not the first time female players have lodged complaints against soccer’s international governing body. In 2014, several female players, including USA’s Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, filed a lawsuit against FIFA for the use of artificial turf in the following year’s World Cup tournament in Canada. For non-athletes, artificial turf affects how the ball moves, the speed of play, and is absolute murder on bare skin. The lawsuit claimed that FIFA was discriminating against the women’s league, given that the men’s version of the tournament would be played on manicured grass.

The organization has also been criticized for promoting sexist attitudes in general. Check out what disgraced ex-president of FIFA Sepp Blatter has to say about female athletes:

“Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men—such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?”

Rule of thumb, Sepp, if you wouldn’t say it about a male player, don’t say it about a female.

We need more female sports representation in the media, because it allows female athletes the necessary platform to serve as role models for the next generation of all stars. The content of sports programming reflects what the fans want to see, but how can fans have a role in choosing what to see when virtually all sports programming is male-dominated? When major news and entertainment outlets ignore women’s sports in favor of male sports coverage, it sends the message that men’s sports are more important and worthy of watching. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I’ve sat by my dad’s side at countless New Jersey Devils games, but I have never seen a professional women’s athletic competition. Girls who participate in youth sports have better physical and emotional health, as well as education attainment and employment, to name just a few benefits. For the 26th consecutive year, girl’s participation in high school athletic programs has increased. Let’s keep that momentum going.

 

Why It’s Okay That The Olsens Aren’t On Fuller House

Why it’s Okay that the Olsens Aren’t on Fuller House

This is an unpopular opinion, but I don’t want Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen to be part of Fuller House.

That is, of course, unless they suddenly want to.

Fuller House, a spin-off of the classic family sitcom Full House, premiered as a Netflix Original Series at the end of February. Despite generally negative reviews, the show is immensely popular among viewers in their 20s and 30s. It really is the perfect pop culture recipe containing two ingredients millennials love most: 90’s nostalgia and Netflix binges.

Case in point: The review aggregator Metacritic has given it a 35/100 based on weighted reviews from credible media critics, but its front-end users have awarded the show a 6.2/10.  It has been called an “inescapable nightmare,” “the worst kind of nostalgia,” and “a porn parody without the porn.” Yet the sitcom has been renewed for a second season.

The whole gang is back for more family-friendly shenanigans. There’s Uncle Joey in his footie pajamas, hunky John Stamos inexplicably looking 35 years old, and the delightfully annoying neighbor Kimmy Gibbler, who, even in adulthood, just can’t leave the Tanner family alone. There is even a golden retriever present in the cast, an homage to the original series’ Comet.

Everyone, from Bob Saget to Jodie Sweetin have reunited for the Netflix show. That this, except for Mary Kate and Ashely Olsen, the celebrity duo who got their start on Full House at 9 months old. The Olsens, who have not acted since 2004, declined being on the show.

Fans are bemoaning the lack of Michelle Tanner, the youngest of the three sisters on the show. Fuller House explains her absence with cheeky dig. Danny Tanner explains in the first episode that Michelle is “busy in New York running her fashion empire,” and the entire cast literally turns and stares at the camera. The live studio audience howls. Uncle Jesse, I mean John Stamos, has also been vocal about the twins’ absence from the Full House universe.

Combined, the real-life twins have a net worth of $300 million. They founded Dualstar Entertainment Group, which was their media and retail empire that, before folding in 2007, was valued at $1 billon. Dualstar was responsible for the release of the Olsens’ cute little movies, books, clothes, video games and various other childhood flotsam ubiquitous during the 90s. They starred in feature-length films like Billboard Dad and Switching Goals. The Olsens also own three clothing lines: Olsenboye, Elizabeth and James and The Row.

Despite being media moguls while still in elementary school, they didn’t fall completely victim to the “child star” trap. Sure, Mary Kate Olsen attracted media attention in 2004 when she was admitted to rehab for an eating disorder, and the twins were known for loving the party lifestyle in their early 20s (who doesn’t?). But if you Google “child stars,” the search engine yields results with tabloid-esque headlines such as“20 Child Stars Gone Bad”, “12 Child Stars Gone (Very) Bad,” and “Top 20 Child Stars Destroyed By Fame.” The sisters Olsen are largely absent from this roster, which includes former 90s child stars like Lindsay Lohan, Macauley Culkin and Amanda Bynes.

How have the Olsens escaped child stardom with their sanity mostly intact?  It could be that they got out of the Hollywood Junior game while they still could, and pursed the lives they wanted on their own terms.

The Olsens used their fame and finances to pursue a career that (presumably) generally interests them. Not only are they pursuing fashion, they are succeeding. This past June, The Row won the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s award for Top Womenswear Designer. This prize is the most coveted of all the awards the CFDA bestows. They are grouped with the likes of Tom Ford, Betsey Johnson and other fashion icons. And they aren’t even 30 yet.

It is weirdly infantilizing that fans of the series alike are so desperate to keep these two women in the grown-up version of roles they played as children. When Full House premiered, the twins were only 9 months old. When hearing “Mary Kate and Ashley,” most people automatically associate them with doe-eyed Michelle Tanner, pigtails bobbing as she flashes a thumbs up and a big “you got it, dude!”

To wit: they are now grown adult women. In the same way that Miley Cyrus went a little rogue in an effort to shed that squeaky-clean Disney girl image, the Olsens are distancing themselves from their child actor roots. As women, and as human beings in general, it is their right to sever ties with aspects of their life that just aren’t working. In fact, the famous sisters have repeatedly stated that they just aren’t actresses anymore. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Maybe it’s easier for me to suggest this because I am not a die-hard Full(er) House fan like the rest of the world seems to be. To be clear, I am not a hater of either show. Full House is a fantastic piece of early 90’s nostalgia that millennials can’t seem to get enough of (as evidenced by the recent surge of TV and movie reboots). I wasn’t even born when the show aired in 1987, and was three years old at its conclusion eight years later. I’ve seen about half of the syndicated re-runs. It’s great entertainment for when you’re home sick and don’t feel like watching Jerry Springer. I haven’t binge-watched Fuller House on Netflix due to lack of time and interest. I know enough about the Full House universe to know the characters, their MOs and their catchphrases (“Have mercy!”); but I’m simply just not invested enough to carve viewing time for it out of my week.

The Olsens don’t owe anybody anything. All actors, musicians, designers, writers, stock brokers, bartenders, marketing specialists, chefs, race car drivers and literally everybody in almost every  profession needs to get their start somewhere. This is why contracts and other legal agreements exist – to specify the terms of service and commitment between entities. When the Olsens fulfilled their tenure on Full House with the season completion in 1995, they were under no obligation to continue ties with the brand if they don’t want to. To put this in perspective: Could you imagine booking a catering service for a party in the afternoon, and then later calling them up at 1am to come make you a late-night snack?

Fuller House doesn’t own the Olsens. Netflix doesn’t own the Olsens. John Stamos doesn’t own the Olsens. And American viewers certainly don’t own the Olsens just because it will satisfy their hearts to have the fully-rounded out cast from an old TV show.

As long as the Olsens aren’t involved with an international gun smuggling ring, they are entitled to pursue whatever career field they want, be it high-end fashion or burger flipping. With Fuller House being the sinking 90s nostalgia ship that it is, the Olsens are smart to pull away and chase after their own dreams. Gracefully declining being part of the monstrosity that critics deem Fuller House to be was a smart business move made by two incredibly savvy young entrepreneurs, which is exactly what Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen are.

The Unique Needs of Drug-Dependent Mothers and their Newborns

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This incident isn’t going to make national news, but it highlights the terrible intersection of drug abuse and motherhood.

In Ventnor City, NJ, a 31-year-old woman allegedly injured her 8-month-old daughter when she rolled over onto her while laying in bed. At the time, the mother was under the influence of drugs, specifically heroin, oxycodone and Lyrica, a painkiller commonly used to treat nerve pain. When police responded to the scene, they uncovered 34 bags of heroin and 10 oxycodone pills. The baby girl is not expected to live, according to social media posts by the baby’s father.

A quick Google search yields dozens of stories similar to this one, where the mother inadvertently kills her infant while high. According to a Reuters investigation, at least 110 babies have died since 2010 in preventable deaths while the parent was high on drugs. Many of these babies suffocated after their mothers rolled onto them. Other drug-related infant deaths occurred when the infants ingested the drugs, or were the victims of drug-induced accidents.

Even more disturbing is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, a condition that affects over 27,000 newborn sin the US each year. This figure represents a five-fold increase from 2000-2009. When the mother takes drugs while pregnant, the drugs pass through the placenta to the fetus. The baby is then born addicted to the drug, and goes through the withdrawal process once they are no longer getting the drugs they were regularly exposed to in utero. This occurs when a mother frequently uses heroin, methamphetamine, oxycodone or other opiates and narcotics during pregnancy. Babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome usually experience violent seizures, uncontrollable trembling, fever, diarrhea, vomiting and sleep problems. Infants who suffer from NAS also frequently have low birth weight and respiratory problems. If you’ve ever seen a grown adult go through withdrawal, imagine the same thing happening to a newborn.

Heroin use in general has skyrocketed in the US. Heroin deaths have quadrupled in the last ten years, and have nearly tripled in the last three years alone.  According to one FDA report, the rate of heroin use is now 2.6 per 1,000 people in the US. This same study found that female heroin use has doubled in the last decade. New Jersey, the home state of the family mentioned above, has seen an explosion of heroin use in the last five years, with heroin-related deaths tripling since 2010.

The issue of babies entering the world borne of drug-addicted mothers is undoubtedly a feminist issue. Substance abuse in general poses a unique issue for women. For example, PTSD followed by sexual trauma is more often found in treatment-seeking women than men. Sex workers, the overwhelming majority of whom are women, are at an increased risk for substance abuse.

The very context of many women’s lives may affect patterns of drug use. Stress, negative affect and unhealthy relationships are all predictors of substance abuse. Still, other factors, such as post-partum depression, mood disorders and disordered eating are also more prevalent among substance-abusing women than their male counterparts.

An estimated 4 million women need treatment for substance abuse issues. One in five pregnant women, about 740,000 annually, use drugs throughout their term. What happens when these women give birth to unhealthy, drug-addicted babies? Beyond the obvious physical and emotional toll this takes on both mother and child, it comes with serious financial implications. The average cost in Tennessee, for example, to deliver a baby suffering from NAS is $62,000, compared with the $4,700 figure it takes to deliver the average healthy baby.

The babies who are lucky enough to survive NAS and other birth complications grow up to become the children of substance abuse. An estimated 3.4 children live with a mother who has substance abuse issues. The majority of these kids grow up to experience a host of problems, including low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and substance abuse issues themselves.

When my local radio station covered the story about the NJ women who caused her baby to asphyxiate, the (white, middle-aged, male) show hosts had a hard time fathoming why the woman didn’t reach out for support or call a babysitter if she knew she was going to be high. This highlights the lack of understanding about what happens to people in the throes of addiction. People suffering from opiate addiction typically fixate on three things: getting high, staying high, and preventing withdrawal symptoms when you can’t get high. Unfortunately, drug abuse eclipses even the best woman’s maternal instincts.

Given that so many women (and by extension, their children) suffer from drug abuse, there needs to be more awareness about the unique needs of female drug abuses, particularly those who are pregnant or new mothers.

Why Trump’s Sexist Comments are Worse than You Think

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Donald J. Trump just keeps on proving that he is the complete opposite of a ladies’ man.

During his campaign rally in Grand Rapids, MI on December 21st, he sprang a series of attacks on Hillary Clinton that could only be construed as sexist. First, he speculated as to where Clinton was when she arrived to the stage a few seconds late following the commercial break during Saturday’s Democratic debate.

“What happened to her?” the business mogul and Republican frontrunner repeatedly asked the audience. “I know where she went last night, it’s disgusting…I don’t want to talk about it.” Trump intimated that Clinton was using the bathroom during the break, and was apparently shocked that women perform the same bodily functions that men do.

The sexist onslaught didn’t stop there. Later in his speech, he drove a vulgar dig into Clinton about her defeat against President Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary elections. “She was favored to win, and she got schlonged,” he practically roared with glee. For the uninitiated, a schlong is a penis. A large one. Essentially, losing a primary election is equivalent to getting railed by a big ol’ dick.

It is easy to dismiss Trump’s comments as boorish (at best) and ignorant (at worst), but there is something more insidious lurking within his sexist rhetoric.

By using images of biological functions and processes, Trump is evoking his fear of the abject, whether he realizes it or not (my guess is no). Coined in 1982 by Julia Kristeva in Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, abjection means that humans are scared of anything that disturbs the social order, puts us at risk for being cast off, or makes us question a potential breakdown between “ourselves” and “the other.”

Basically, human beings have a subconscious fear of that which makes us confront our “corporeal reality.” It explains why most people are grossed out by blood, vomit, urine and waste. The sights, sounds and smells are just too real for comfort. The fact that we are barely one evolutionary step away from copulating and crapping in the woods is unnerving to us, whether we realize it or not. Anything that remotely reminds us of that is automatic grounds for revulsion and rejection.

Abjection has long been a feminist issue. In Managing the Monstrous Feminine: Regulating the Reproductive Body, Jane M. Ussher explains how the “fecund female body” has been regulated, revered and reviled in medicine, mythology, art and culture throughout history. Barbara Creed also draws on Kristeva’s work in The Monstrous Feminine, which explores how women are vehicles of abject terror in horror movies.

This is not the first time that Trump has reduced women to their “gross” bodily functions. He ignited outrage when he commented that Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly “had blood coming out of her wherever” after the GOP debate this past August. This was in response to Kelly questioning him if his comments that women were “fat slobs, dogs, pigs and disgusting animals” (his comments about comedian Rosie O’Donnell) constituted appropriate commentary for a president to be spouting.Although it is widely held by feminists that PMS is mostly a social construct, one aspect of menstruation that isn’t constructed is the shame and stigma surrounding PMS and menstrual periods. Girls are taught very early that periods are gross and hormones will turn you into a shrieking banshee during “that time of the month.” These attitudes are suggestive of abjection of the female form.

Trump’s comments, then, must really underscore how he views women. I don’t want to put words in Trump’s mouth, but does he really see women as raging she-beasts barely in control of their bodies? More importantly, should a guy like this be holding the highest office in the county? For Trump’s sake, he better not have any women in his Cabinet at the White House if he becomes president. Otherwise, he’ll have to fire them or they’ll wind up shitting and bleeding all over the carpets.

The Most Dangerous (Dating) Game: Online Dating or College Campuses?

Moving back home after college is great if you’re lucky enough to not pay rent, but it does come with a few drawbacks. Gone are the days when I could float in and out of my campus apartment, with only my roommates and a potted cactus to keep tabs on me. My cactus sometimes did a better job than my roommates, to be honest. My mom constantly wants to know where I am and who I’m with.

I’m recently single, and I wouldn’t mind starting to casually date again. Say what you will about Tinderellas and unsolicited dick pics, but my friends and I have mercifully enjoyed positive (or at least, neutral) experiences with online dating. My mother was just short of horrified when I told her that I was going to try to go on a few online dates. I should know by now to keep my business to myself.

Initially, I assumed it was a generational thing. My mom is 40 years older than I am. The Internet didn’t even exist when she was in the dating game. Weird maternalism over your adult daughter’s sexual autonomy aside, wanting your kids to be safe when dating is something most parents probably worry about.

This raises an interesting question. Is going out on a date with that Tinder hottie any more dangerous than getting cozy in the corner of a frat party with the bro from your Intro to Psych class?

Frighteningly, it is virtually impossible to determine just how many instances of rape and sexual assault occur from online dating, according to law enforcement officials. Sex-based crimes are underreported to begin with, and ones that stem from online encounters are no exception. Furthermore, there are no databases that exist solely for the purpose of tracking sexual assaults that are linked to online dating websites and apps.

This is alarming, given how popular online dating is. The online dating industry is valued at $2.1 billion, with roughly 40 million users in the US on over 1500 distinct sites and apps. Lack of official data notwithstanding, that is a huge pool of potential assailants and victims. There are countless examples of women who reported meeting up with an online date, only be assaulted or attacked minutes into the encounter. For every guy who creates an online dating profile hoping to meet a nice girl to take to that new Italian place and maybe see the latest Judd Apatow flick, there are creepy perverts solely looking to lure women into a dangerous situation. For juvenile internet users, the US Department of Justice reported that 93% of minors who met up with an adult from the Internet had some type of sexual contact with them.

Since no concrete statistics are recorded, it is almost impossible to conclude whether meeting a rando online is any more dangerous than meeting a classmate at the campus watering hole or frat party. Which then begs the question if young women are better off forgoing OKCupid and Tinder and sticking to dating the people they know on campus.

College is a wonderful fairy land where students can actually choose their course of study, dorm living is like a never-ending sleep over with your best friends, and alcohol flows from the faucets like water. However, some colleges are also unfortunately susceptible to becoming rape prone cultures, or environments whose attitudes, discourses and activities tolerate and promote an atmosphere of sexualized violence against women.

There are a few key reasons why colleges seem to be breeding grounds for sexual misconduct. Colleges where most of the social life occurs off-campus, as well as colleges that glorify athletic and/or Greek life, are particularly susceptible to turning into rape prone cultures. Overall, universities that promote a “culture of silence” in conjunction with aggressive male sexuality are the ones most likely to experience higher instances of sexual assault.

Within the last few years, it appears that there has been an increase in the number of sexual assaults occurring on college campuses. Or at least, the number of reported sexual assaults. One of the largest studies of its kind by the Association of American Universities estimates that 23% of female college students experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact on campus. Furthermore, 11% consisted of either oral or vaginal penetration. Vanderbilt, Princeton, Duke, Columbia, Florida State and of course UVA are just a handful of the universities that experienced high profile sexual assault cases within the last few years.

Of course, athletes and fraternity brothers are not the only individuals who perpetrate sexual assaults on campuses. And most athletes and fraternity brothers are productive members of their college communities who don’t do anything more sinister than leaving Natty Light cans scattered around their yards. The real problem lies in the power and privilege afforded to these groups. On most (but certainly not all) campuses, frats and sports houses exert major social control: they provide the party venue, the alcohol, and the key to social life on that campus. Acceptance into this world is as intoxicating at the jungle juice that may or may not have a date rape drug slipped into it.

Nominally, online dating seems sketchier due to the anonymity afforded by the Internet. The trope of the 50-year-old basement-dwelling pervert masquerading as a handsome young man is alive and well. Given that the three major online dating companies (eHarmony, Match.com, and Sparks Network) only just started implementing background checks in 2012, women need to be incredibly cautious and vigilant when agreeing to meet men from the Internet.

The same can be said for dating in general, particularly for young women whose dating pool consists of their campus and college town. There is a false sense of security in assuming that just because someone is part of your campus community, they don’t pose a threat to your physical and sexual wellbeing.

While navigating the dark waters of the Internet can be daunting, dating on college campuses can be potentially more perilous, given that many campuses are incredibly rape-prone and show no signs of changing. Until more data are compiled on Internet dating and sexual assaults, there is no way to definitively conclude which is truly more dangerous.

Selling the dream: “Lifestyle porn” and comfort consumerism in the age of terrorism

Friday night, I sat on my couch and saw Paris descend into chaos. I also swiped through my Instagram feed. As I watched the death toll climb from 30 to 80-something to 129, I also mindlessly scrolled though social media.

“Ooh look at that, they sell Killstar and Social Decay at that boutique in Asbury Park. I’ll have to go tomorrow,” I thought to myself, semi-oblivious to the carnage on my TV. Dozens of people lay dead in the streets of Paris, with hundreds more wounded, and here I am planning a shopping trip for clothes I don’t need.

Isn’t it nice to think about happy things?

The notion of consumerism as an escape from the grisly horrors of war and terrorism isn’t exactly new. In the wake of 9/11, our leaders urged us to be strong, to stand united…and to shop. Then-president George W. Bush urged Americans to get on with their lives. To travel, spend money and keep the economy going. Otherwise, the terrorists would win. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani delivered a similar message at Fashion Week one month after the terrorist attacks: “’Freedom to shop,” he declared, “is one of the fundamental liberties terrorists want to deprive us of.”

Guiliani and Bush presented an interesting point. Performing an act as mundane as shopping automatically creates a sense of normalcy, which is definitely comforting in times of crisis. What’s the alternative? Staying locked indoors, too afraid to leave our houses? America is not a warzone. For the time being, at least.

In the months following 9/11, San Francisco mayor Willie Brown initiated America: Open for Business, a campaign that featured posters depicting an American flag with shopping bag handles. The initiative itself encouraged Bay Area residents to “reinvest” in the economy, and to spend as much money as possible in restaurants, museums, shops and nightclubs. This was one of many similar initiatives launched after 9/11.

The most extensive work detailing the fashion industry’s response to 9/11 is ”The Right to Fashion in the Age of Terrorism” by Minh-Ha T. Pham (2011). Pham highlights the sartorial symbolism found in both the economic and emotional recovery of the United States after the terrorist attacks. She specifically mentions that that during this time, to be fashionable was to be patriotic and democratic. The “right” to fashion, whether in the form of haute couture or “cheap chic” from Target, sets the liberal and righteous West apart from the despotic, terroristic Middle East.

Numerous fashion journalists at the time used the burqa, worn by women in countries under Taliban rule, as the oppressive antithesis of liberal fashion. The right to self-expression via style is the exact opposite of being hidden away under a burqa (Pham does point out, however, that this line of thinking ignores the agency of many Muslim women who willingly wear the garmet for religious and cultural reasons).

I’ve only worked in digital marketing for three weeks, and even I can tell you how important it is for companies to “sell the dream.” It’s not about what actual goods or services you’re selling, but the message behind it. This is most notably manifested in the fashion industry. I remember skulking around the mall as a pre-teen and walking by Abercrombie & Fitch (oh the early 2000s). The teenage sales associates were setting up a window display. The glass had a decal plastered on it that read: ABERCROMBIE & FITCH – CASUAL COOL LIFESTYLE. I probably wouldn’t have even paid it any attention had the sales associates not made a comment about it. One of them said, “I couldn’t wear my new Vans to work.” The other one snickered, “that’s not part of the causal cool lifestyle.”

Thinking about these flippant early 2000s retail teens brings up two questions:

1)What the hell on earth even is a “casual cool lifestyle?”

2) Why is this important?

In 2015, it’s easy to write off A&F as an irrelevant and kind of weird artifact from the turn of the 21st century; of course they would come up with a dumb marketing slogan that seemingly doesn’t mean anything. However, there is something to be said for the creation and perpetration of so-called “lifestyle porn” as a means of comfort and distraction from the outside world.

Despite being a popular hashtag, “life porn” isn’t clearly defined on the Internet. It is #foodgram, #fitspo, #travelporn and #armparty all rolled into one. For the uninitiated, think of any workout account on Instagram featuring a fit, healthy girl wearing Nike running shoes, an Underarmour sports bra, and Lululemon leggings. Don’t you want to be fit and healthy like her? Or a smiling couple wearing earth-toned jackets and scarves on a cozily cloudy day in the Pacific Northwest. Looks more appealing than whatever it is you and your S.O are up to. Or an intricately-decorated table spread with an all-organic, Paleo, gluten-free Thanksgiving dinner (link to recipes in bio!). Compare that to binging on Bud Lite and sour gummies because you’re too lazy to cook. That’s #lifeporn.

One article astutely describes this phenomenon as the home of the “minimalist pixie dream girl,” aka the effortlessly chic women living highly stylized lifestyles played out on social media platforms like Instagram, Tumblr, and of course, Pinterest. The insidious thing about the minimalist pixie dream girl is that the photoshoots and brand profiles of her perpetuate a lifestyle that is hardly attainable to the average person. She is only an illusion, a fantasy, a time-out from the chaos of the real world.

People find comfort wrapped in a cocoon of luxury. It makes us feel both secure and empowered, especially in times of turmoil. Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue and goddess of all fashion itself, articulated this sentiment best in the magazine’s November 2001 issue: “Fashion is essential in these difficult times, paradoxically, to keep us in touch with our dreamy, fanciful, self‐pleasing natures.”

Brands sell more than just products. They essentially sell a fantasy life. And the more “dreamy, fanciful and self-pleasing” it looks, the more people want to buy into it. Such is the nature of so-called life porn, and pretty much all marketing in general. Who wouldn’t want to be the gently smiling model in an advertisement, wrapped securely in a cable-knit sweater coat doing “fall things” in a pumpkin patch, clutching a Starbucks cup for dear life, because in the farthest recesses of our collective subconscious, another bomb could detonate, or plane crash into a building.

I am part of the generation that grew up in the post-9/11 world. Millennials are also the generation that became teenagers during the advent of social media. So much of our life – and our lifestyles – are curated and cultivated online. Above all, we are the products of post-9/11 hysterical consumerism, which then is put on display for all to see via lifestyle porn.

This is the landscape we’re living in right now. Given the terrorist attacks in Paris this weekend, or the massacre at Garissa University College in Kenya last April, or the double-suicide bombing in Beirut earlier this week, the fashion-as-freedom discourse is as relevant now as it ever was.