Sunday, February 28, 2010

Combating Hegemony

“But I’m a Cheerleader” raises an important point that could be lost in all of its wit. Overall, what does this film work to accomplish? Yes, it works to question common thoughts on the “normalcy” of heterosexual relationships, but more importantly, it adds to the discourse on the subject, which had previous been disarmed by those with discursive power. To explain, one must comprehend Michel Foucault’s claims on power that from his insistence that power is not a possessive ability, rather it flows though belief systems, or discourse, that work to create a body of common knowledge that everyone should adhere to. From this established common knowledge comes a disposition towards what actions are right and which are wrong, or deviant. Somewhere along time, the discourse created the standard relationship as a heterosexual one, with homosexuality being the deviant choice. However, the resistance to the norm has been there (which reinforces the notion of power that the discourse has held), but had been somewhat miniscule and obscured that it was not able to achieve legitimacy. Obvious, we are very nuanced to have to have an to specifically encounter these issues in a classroom setting, but it shows that the discourse is changing, thanks to a more diverse set of contributors to gender and sexual theory. Previously it seems that the merit of gender and sexual theory was non-existent, as it was merely accepted, through discursive power that the common knowledge was only of heterosexual relationships (either a result of procreation or religious influences, etc.). Because the conditions for who received merit for their thoughts on sexuality were mainly just spitting back these “common knowledges,” it can follow that the merit was largely unwarranted. With the contribution pool becoming much larger, and working to paint a more complete picture of all of the intricacies of sexuality, it works to disarm the power that the discourse of heterosexuality once had. The call for more contributors may mimic the notion of an affirmative action program, but it has the best of intentions by seeking to include all viewpoints into the wealth of discourse on the subject (whether it is gender, sexuality, race theory, etc.). Hopefully, by including and respecting the totality of claims towards sexuality, the current structure will illuminate the privileges that heterosexuality has possessed and work to combat the privileges. “But I’m a Cheerleader” may take a comical tone at times, but its significance cannot be ignored, as it actively functions as a counter to the assumed hegemony of heterosexual relationships.

AA for Homosexuals

After watching But I'm a Cheerleader, I went to some websites of homosexual rehabilitation centers. I was completely outraged! The main one I found called Exodus International referred to homosexuals as "strugglers" who were working through their "problems" and beginning to heal- as if homosexuality were a disease like Leprosy. I read the testimony of one man who was having homosexual feelings and didn't want them. He found Jesus Christ (I personally wasn't aware he was missing) and his pastor agreed to "walk this out" with him. I suppose it's good to know that you can simply walk off who you are. I put two of the top websites down in case anyone would like to explore their websites. They're honestly pretty fascinating; it's interesting to me to look at people who practice Christianity completely differently from how I practice it.

Communication at Rhodes

The ending of “But I’m a Cheerleader” posed problems for our class. While trying to locate the exact reason we didn’t like it, we talked about how young the heroines were, how hard their life would be, and how unlikely it was for a high school couple to remain together. After thinking about it, I realized that for me, the conclusion was insufficient because it failed to answer the question I had wondered since the beginning. Is Megan really a lesbian? Though this might be crude or insensitive, it was never really clear to me whether Megan was being pressured into ‘experimenting’ or if her friends and family, in their vast stupidity, had somehow guessed right. If the key markers of homosexuality are vegetarianism, an aversion to bad kissing, and looking at girls, then there are a lot more lesbians out there than is currently suspected. The movie left me uneasy because I couldn’t quite fit Megan into any preformed role, and that uncertainty wasn’t resolved in by the ending. After two months of talking about gender roles and how to undermine them, I still think in terms of ‘is’ and ‘isn’t.’

I bring this up because of the stereotype of college being a place to explore new and exciting pathways, especially when women have relationships with other women. When one of my long-time friends came out recently, the reaction of another friend was: “When did you decide this?” Although my friend didn’t mean her comment in a negative way, it was seen as a disparaging accusation that homosexuality is a choice one can make. At Rhodes we have a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy that, while at the surface seemingly harmless, perpetuates the misunderstanding that prevents communication between students of opposing beliefs. As a campus, we have very little dialogue about important issues. We have pro and con sides of the dice, and each side is unwilling to even acknowledge the other. When we put the T-Shirt display on the quad, someone rips down part of the message. On a campus that is completely divested of communication, it is unsurprising that the gay and lesbian population doesn’t feel comfortable being more vocal. If groups like the GSA were more visible on campus, it would go far to help with this problem. My two friends had a misunderstanding of one another, not a fear of one another. Rhodes as a whole needs to communicate in order to educate both sides of the issue one why they feel the way they do.

And They Rode Into the Sunset In A Speeding Pickup.

But I’m a Cheerleader deals with homosexuality with over-the-top stereotyping and tounge-in-cheek humor. It dealt with some serious issues of accepting one’s sexuality versus acting an imposed sexuality. I think one of the interesting things that came up, as I mentioned in class, was that we don’t know what happens after Meagan and Graham run away together.
Throughout the whole movie there is the struggle between the “campers” who have been characterized as homosexual by certain actions and their director, Mary, who is the characterization of a heterosexual society. Everyone has to come up with a “root” to why they are homosexual and have this parents weekend where the parents are able to monitor the progress of their kids but there is no real indications of the children’s relationships with their parents outside of that the parents want them to be straight. As Graham’s root is that her mother got married in pants. This alludes that she may have been lesbian but it also could have been a situation where her mother was more dominant, like Meagan’s mother. We also find out that the woman with Graham’s father is not her mother, but her stepmother. Her stepmother says something to the effect of, “You’re going to risk losing your father for the same reason you lost your mother.” I think this is interesting because it raises an interesting question of Graham’s actual background and whether he mother was a lesbian as the plot alludes to.Moreover there is no reconciliation between the any of characters and their parents. At the end of the movie Meagan’s parents are at a group like “Parents of Homosexuals Anonymous” in which the father seems to be accepting but the mother is clearly embarrassed. There is no indication of whether Meagan really was left to her own devices or whether her parents actually came around.
When Meagan puts herself on the line to convince Graham to run away with her, of course Graham cannot resist personal cheerleading (I mean could you? That’s commitment) and the ride away in the back of the pickup truck with Dolph and his love interest Clayton. What happens after that though? Do they really go on to live happily ever after in a sea of self-acceptance and bliss? When Meagan retreats to Lloyd and Larry after being kicked out of True Direction, Lloyd asks her what she’s going to do now. Is she going to go to college, where she might want to live etc. Larry replies, “It’s too soon.” These are all very valid questions that are still unanswered at the end of the movie, making it more like a fairytale parody to me. There are still issues unresolved like what happens to homosexual teenagers who have struck out on their own with no real resources to support themselves and not support system. What are your thoughts? The floor is yours.

Friday, February 26, 2010

"Playing it Straight"

But I’m a Cheerleader gives us a tongue-in-cheek look at gender and sexuality stereotypes and the lengths some will go to in order to fit them. Because the movie is so obviously a satire, it is ok for us to laugh at the outrageous antics the kids are forced to perform as part of their “degayification.” Yet some forms of media do not treat the subject with such frivolity, and it is when gender and sexuality stereotypes are taken seriously and treated as real determining factors that we should be concerned. For example:

I spent last weekend holed up in my apartment trying to overcome an illness, which sadly involved a lot of TV-watching. The Fox Reality Channel (a channel that plays all Fox’s old reality TV shows—some trashier than others) followed up a block of episodes of “Beauty and the Geek” with a marathon of a dating show of which I’d never heard, “Playing it Straight.” This show debuted in the summer of 2004 but was cancelled due to low ratings, and only three of the eight episodes actually aired. The premise has a young, attractive woman in a “Bachelorette”-like setting, with fourteen potential suitors vying for her attention. Over the course of the show they go on dates, and she eliminates them one by one. Of course, there is prize money at the end for her and the man she ultimately chooses. The catch—which is not revealed to the woman until after she meets all the men—is that some of the men in the group are gay, and she has to use her “gaydar” to weed them out. If at the end she chooses a straight man, each of them wins $500,000; however, if she is duped and chooses a gay man who is only acting straight, the gay man wins the whole million and she leaves with nothing but a broken heart.

Excuse me for being crude, but does anyone else thinks this sounds f*cked up on a variety of levels? Level one: a woman is lured onto a dating show thinking she’s going to have the fairytale experience of choosing from fourteen men who adore her and getting some cash at the end, but is told retroactively that she could very well end up with nothing because… Level two: many of the men are trying to deceive her to win the money for themselves by… Level three: being not only forced to hide who they are but also… Level four: along with the straight men, judged based on the stereotypes they seem to fit instead of their personalities or even simply their looks. And let’s not forget the straight men in the bunch who thought they’d be competing for a woman’s heart but instead found themselves having to constantly defend their sexuality.

In the very first episode, before she is told some of the men are gay, the woman finds herself in a predicament and has to sheepishly ask the men if any of them could loan her a hair dryer. Not surprisingly, only one man volunteers. Later, after the big secret is revealed, the woman is told she must eliminate two of the men and, naturally, she wants to get rid of the gay men to improve her chances. Since she doesn’t know any of the men yet, she has little to consider when making her decision. Thus, the hair dryer incident proves to be somewhat influential because, as we all know, straight men don’t dry their hair. (She actually chooses not to eliminate him in that episode but eventually does; he does in fact turn out to be gay.)

This hair dryer episode perpetuates a somewhat amusing and harmless stereotype. In a later episode, one man accidentally breaks another’s arm. He is full of grief and guilt and cries in front of the woman; she subsequently eliminates him. Why? She wouldn’t expect such a flagrant display of emotion from a straight man. (The man is, in fact, gay, but that’s beside the point.) This stereotype—that straight men don’t cry—is one of the more damaging ones because, unlike the hair dryer issue, it questions the man’s character and essential being, not just learned behaviors such as grooming practices.

The fact that these more serious reinforcements of the dichotomy of male sexual orientation are made as much a part of this dating show (dare I call it a “game?”) as superficial traits and actions is dismaying. Also dismaying is that this show is not meant to be at all satirical. Films like But I’m a Cheerleader poke fun at stereotypes in a way that points out the ridiculousness of the lengths human beings go to in order to “perform” gender and sexuality. This show does exactly the opposite, teaching people that it is not only acceptable but necessary to use “gaydar” in our everyday lives, sometimes for our own self-protection against those evil homosexuals who are out to fool us.

In case you are wondering, nine out of the fourteen men were gay. However, the woman beat the odds and ended up choosing a straight man and, according to Fox, they were together for two years after the show—a rare “success” in this genre. More information can be found here:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Normal Sex and Sexuality

In class several weeks ago, we found ourselves giving opposite answers to empirical questions. When asking whether a biological basis exists for claims to one’s "biological clock ticking" and the subsequently quickened desire for a child, we recognized that there are outliers to any rule, dissolving the rule. Much like Professor Terjesen’s professed lack of awe when confronted by supposedly "beautiful" natural phenomena, certain assumptions of a universal condition among women, as among humans, are specious, ignoring the diversity of embodied human experience. However, Prof. Terjesen’s situation may be a biological issue, akin to the lack of bodily yearning for a child experienced by some women, or a social contingency (he was raised in an urban environment). Still, we could compare such a social situation to the same lack of yearning for a child. While we cannot dispense with biological realities as mere “social constructs,” with such statements as “men and women are exactly the same,” we cannot assume culture to arise totally from biology either. To acknowledge the exceptions to the "rule," cultural or biological, is to begin dispensing with stereotypes and hasty generalizations; some women choose not to have children, while others may simply not feel the initial urge to have them.

This discussion was telling of the ways in which people construct concepts like gender or sexuality; they are often framed within the types of biological questions we are asking. The common conception of intersexed individuals as biological "errors" shows how our views of the science of sex are limited by the kinds of questions being asked within the medical field itself: Are intersexed individuals errors of nature? If their births occurred naturally, what is natural? Is there then a viable ideal of “normal”? How intersexed individuals are treated, as a result of these questions, depends upon whatever discourse is dominant, whichever paradigm is currently in place and seen as normal. Feminism is treated as abnormal discourse, placing pressure upon current cultural constructions of gender/sex, offering the "abnormal" perspective which eventually (and in this case, hopefully) forces the dominant discourse to either perish or reformulate.

It is to proponents of the "normal" discourse that pressure must be applied through abnormal discourse’s constant questioning: Should homosexuality be considered an aberration in the sense that Down's Syndrome or autism is an aberration? Can we even call homosexuality an aberration, and what constitutes an aberration? A divergence from the norm, i.e., the dominant mode of human experience, heterosexuality? If so, what would make a homosexual individual less functional in society than a heterosexual individual? The further one burrows into the conceptual framework of the normal discourse, the more one must face these questions. The goal and purpose of the abnormal discourse is to provide new theory, which is to say, new tools by which to "dismantle the master's house."

Thus, in challenging the normal discourse concerning sex and sexuality, both in their medical or more broadly cultural manifestations, we come to a more complete critique of currently dominant practices and attitudes. To consider the potential biological realities of sex and sexuality, we must be careful not to advance the arguments of the vulgar social constructivist, who states that sexuality as such is totally constructed by social forces. It may be strange to conclude with this point, but vulgar social constructivism would be exactly the sort of viewpoint by which the True Directions counselors in “But I’m A Cheerleader” hope to find a “root” cause for each person’s homosexuality within their social situatedness.

GSA Go All the Way

Dr. Johnson brought up a valid point about the lack of a vocal gay community on the Rhodes College campus. I attended several of the GSA meetings my freshman and sophomore year. Students ran these meetings and discussed issues relative to the GLBT community such as coming out or personal experiences they have had while at Rhodes. Organizations like these on Campus are significant but not as prominent as other student held clubs. The lack of faculty involvement and support hinder the progress of these multicultural organizations.

The GLBT community outside of Rhodes is prominent and respected. Dr. Johnson referenced this and I could not agree more. From volunteering weekly at the MGLCC (Memphis Gay Lesbian Community Center) I have been exposed to an incredible organization. The founding principles and practices of this organization are grounded on firm beliefs that work. Community members feel weclome and use the center as a positive safe zone. It provides things such as free testing, pot luck dinners, motivational speakers, etc. The amount of support for the center is profound. Memphis community members support the organization and its goals profusely either through donation of time, goods, or money. The enables a healthy community for the GLBT community in Memphis.

If Rhodes GSA were given more support and recognition the efforst would hopefully produce a similar success as the MGLCC. Awareness is essential. Students are the most effective leaders on campus but support from faculty and administration would bring a heightened respect to the organization. Subsequently, Rhodes would no longer hold an insubstantial, inadequate number of community members. Collaboration between students and faculty would foster an ideal, safe, and respectable community at Rhodes College.

Mary, the Heterosexist

The players in But I’m A Cheerleader (1999) make an impressive display of the framework surrounding sexuality and gender performance as a result of powerful shaping and maintenance by the heterosexist norm. The film is “campy” as Dr. J noted because the blatant humor allows the film the discuss some very heavy social issues, the dialogue dripping with witty, pointed cynicism.

In one of my favorite scenes, Mary, who I believe represents a female shaping of the heterosexist, male collective, notes that any sexuality outside of heterosexuality is considered a deviation, or “Other.” Mary and the students of her heterosexualizing academy sit in a therapeutic circle and she asks, “Ok then, who's left to report out their root? Andre?” Andre replies, “Shit Ms. Mary, I ain't the only one who don't got no root.” The film, I believe, is commenting on the system currently in place that makes heterosexuality normative. Anything that is not heterosexual is “Othered,” considered a deviation, wrong. On basic levels, this seems instinctively wrong. I have heard very few arguments against homosexuality that deviate from “it is not natural” and “the bible says it is wrong.” With a background in science, an interest in medicine, and a bible scholar, I can refute most of these with ease. What I could not do, until a year ago, however, was refute it with good logic. In reply to the film’s statement, I agree with their humorous interpretation of the alleged psychological root of deviation from heterosexuality. In realizing that sexuality is a construct, developed and maintained by the heterosexist, male norm, we further realize that sexuality is a performance. Those that perform the part of heterosexual are accepted in society and those that play any other role are not, or are accepted differently in many situations. There is not “root” to any sexuality, however. Homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality, etc... are all sexualities, performances of sexuality. My criticism is that individuals should be able to perform sexuality in whatever way they choose and not be “Othered” as a result because there ought be no norm.

God is not a white, straight old man, though an image of creation dictates how society relates to sexuality. Megan is chanting her cheer near Graham in one scene, “2, 4, 6, 8, God is good...” when Graham finishes with a sarcastic “God is straight!” Megan agreed to Graham’s suggestion, however. I agree that in many cultures religion helps maintain normative heterosexist oppression. Genesis 2 is used in many churches and I have heard sermons on it many times in my life. Genesis 2 is the creation account in which God creates man first and then woman is created. The two live happily in the garden until woman screws up paradise by eating the forbidden fruit (embracing knowledge) and coaxing man to do the same. That man was first created in God’s image assumes that those closest to the divine are male. That one man and one woman were created clearly means Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. This whole scene almost seems laughable--until you grow up in mid-Missouri your entire life and see this mentality play out. The bible belt is ruled by this mindset and children in these religious traditions learn, from an early age, how to perform gender and sexuality from this common children’s story and congregants hear it in the pews. Many religious traditions teach their flocks to “Other” gay people from an early age, a point the film may not have been making though I related to, having grown up in a context in which I was taught to “Other” any sexuality that was not heterosexuality.

Essentially, I really enjoy this film because it makes several common points that many of us take for example every day. Where does the concept of heterosexuality being the normative come from? What elements maintain this idea and force? By asking questions and identifying beginnings, we begin to understand how to deconstruct the system and resist it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pragmatism and Feminism

I took American Philosophy as a sophomore and lately I began to realize how greatly pragmatism is tied in with feminist philosophy and gender norms, especially the work of John Dewey. Pragmatism tells us that complex habits that we pick up through experience allow us to efficiently function in daily life. It allows us to do things without thinking about it. For example think back to when people first tried to tell you how to hold a pencil, you probably had to think about how to do it the first few times. But now I bet that the technique doesn’t even cross your mind when you write. This habit allows write and think about other things at the same time. Habits are learned through experience and allow us to live our lives much more efficiently, however we must be careful about the habits we have.

Dewey says that there are two different types of habits, routine habits, and intelligent habits. An intelligent habit is one that we control and use based on our need and situation, a routine habit is one that controls us. An intelligent habit is one that we don’t have to perform, but one we choose to perform because we realize it will help us. Walking is an example of this. People don’t need to think about the complexities of walking while they do it, they can change up their walk, like the pace, step size, etc, and we have complete control over this. A routine habit would be something like, needing to smoke while you drink; something that you feel like you must do, even though it is not good or beneficial to you. In hindsight, you know you probably shouldn’t do it, it doesn’t make since to do it but you do it anyway. Dewey suggests that people should look at the consequences before performing actions in order to evaluate whether or not to perform an action; a routine habit ignores the evaluation and acts anyway. An example of a routine habit in society would be the amount of meat we eat a day. Most guys usually eat meat of some form every meal, because society seems to pressure us into thinking that’s normal, while I love meat, and think everyone should eat it, I do realize that it is a habit people have that was engrained by our culture.

Feminists seem to want to make women and men evaluate their acts before they do it, and they want to abolish those routine habits that are commonplace in our society. These common habits are inscribed into people from the time they are very young through the experiences parents give them, like women should play house when they are young girls so they are homemakers in the future. Parents end up buying girls easy bake ovens to teach them these habits. The create routine habits in them that say that women should cook, clean and raise the children while boys play games like war when they are young, among other things that make them more aggressive and more likely to end up like the common male in the future. The thing is if one were to evaluate these habits instilled into our children and look at the consequences they would see how foolish it is. Let’s say we have a boy and a girl, and this girl is of far greater intelligence, and displays more skills then the boy. If you look at this intelligently you would see that it would be a waste to teach this girl to be a common housewife while teaching the boy to be a working man in a company. Dewey challenges people to look at habits we have and evaluate them before performing them.

In looking at the movie "But I’m a Cheerleader", I realized the role of habits played in the movie to try to brainwash the children. They thought that teaching the girls to cook and clean, while teaching the boys sports and fixing cars would change them. They wanted them to do these things like they were second nature; they wanted them to do these things without thinking about them. The founder of true directions seemed to believe that habits stemming from gay people’s parents caused the members there to become gay. Like she thought that the protagonist developed a habit of thinking women should be the one dominating the household because the mother supported the father for 9 months and because of this she became a lesbian. The movie seems to hint that these people are gay from birth. Their situation will not change just because you pound some routine habits into them until they become so mindless that they act straight. When the people realize how stupid it is to learn this stuff, with them being in their situation, they abandon the true directions program. This might be an overly simplistic way to view the movie, however I think it applies.

Religion and Homosexuality

After Watching But I’m a Cheerleader in class yesterday, I began to wonder: How does the role of religion affect gender roles and gender/sexual norms within our society? Although the United States has declared a separation of church and state, the influence of Christianity, and particularly Protestant values, is prevalent within our government, media, and “moral” social norms. Politicians have taken up moral reform as a platform for their campaigns, and issues such as gay rights have become matters of political concern. Do these issues have a place in public policy? From where do the roots of these concerns stem? I think that America’s history of passionate and at times extreme religious sects cannot be separated from our political history. In fact, religion is one of the very reasons for the colonization of this country. Although we have evolved and developed in many ways since colonization, these religious roots are still shaping the lives of many American citizens. Christian religious morals and America's history of strong religious influence have the ability to impact laws ranging from deciding what qualifies as “appropriate” gendered clothing, the limitation and punishment of certain sexual acts outside of the heterosexual norm, and the rights to cohabitation and marriage.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mary's Prison

I went directly to my English Jr. Sem class after watching the film But I'm a Cheerleader. We were discussing Michel Foucault's The Birth of the Prison and I couldn't help but juxtapose the film and text.

Foucault challenges the practices of prisons and focuses on one prison, Mettray, to exemplify his arguments. Prisoners are sent to Mettray between the ages of six and twenty one. The typical age represented in the film was of teenagers being sent to True Directions. "Why Mettray? Because it is the disciplinary form at it's most extreme, the model in which are concentrated all the coercive technologies of behaviour. In it were to be found 'cloister, prison, school, regiment" (Norton, 1637). This all-encompassing institution seems similar to the camp Mary has created for her homosexual misfits. The campers are forced to follow the steps of admitting their homosexuality, rediscovering their gender identity, finding the root of their homosexuality, demystifying the opposite sex, and simulating heterosexual intercourse. Strict disciplinary Mary leaves no room for deviation from these steps in order to "cure" the campers.

Just as Foucault argues that these prison's function a particular way so that they never fail to produce "delinquents" neither can Mary's True Directions fail to produce "heterosexual" campers. Even though we have yet to finish the film in class, I'm sure we can all assume this is false. Systems that work with an established idea of whats normative cannot function effectively. The film challanges the social construction of sex, gender and sexuality in a heteronormative environment.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Curbing Rape

I don’t know about you, but I am appalled by the statistic that 1 in 6 American women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape. I am horrified to realize that my classmates, my friends, my family members, and my neighbors continually are subjected to this form of violence. Through my participation in the Vagina Monologues, I have also come to understand how affected this community is from this form of violence. So much silence surrounds this issue; women are ashamed to talk about their experiences and other people often feel uncomfortable hearing about those experiences. Well, why can’t we talk about it?

A person who was recently raped told me that her counselor asked her, “What were you wearing the day that you were raped?” This question appalled me and the fact that someone who was supposed to help her sort through her experiences asked her this question appalled me even more. How dare a counselor suggest that she somehow caused her rape by her choice of clothing? On the one hand, the argument presented in Mackinnon’s work about rape mirrors the sentiments of the question asked by the counselor. The fact that some feminists believe that making sex more acceptable for women will curb rape suggests that women resisting sex is the problem! Incest, for example, is also a huge problem in our society. The fact that women are raped by their own family members could not be curbed by making sex more acceptable to women. Would these feminists suggest that women should not refuse sex in this case? The very suggestion is outrageous to me. I wholeheartedly believe that this is not the correct way to view an extermination of rape and work toward creating a solution.

Making sure that 1 in 6 American women are not the victim of sexual violence next year would mean that we would honestly have to analyze our society’s view of sex. Why is there so much silence around sex? Why are students not educated about sex? We like to believe that every child can go home with their parents and have honest discussions about sex. We like to believe that every person has someone that they can talk to when they are assaulted. We like to believe that everyone has the resources to leave an abusive situation and that no one has to be subjected to violence if they do not want to. This is clearly not the case. I have met numerous people who don’t feel like they have someone they can talk to or have resources. I feel like one of the first steps would be creating a dialogue about healthy sexuality. People should be educated about what it means to be an autonomous sexual being. This would have to start in schools. Students must be educated about their bodies and the boundaries of other people’s bodies to make sure that such acts of violence are not perpetuated in the future.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Young Victoria

This past Friday, I went to see The Young Victoria, which is a movie about the early years of Queen Victoria and how she started her reign over England. Though she was young and without any experience ruling, Victoria took the throne after her father and uncle died. She defied the usual stereotype that claimed a man was the one who could successfully be the sovereign. Victoria took on the responsibility of a man in the eyes of her country. Before Victoria started her reign, she had been introduced to Prince Albert who she kept writing to and seeing during beginning of her rule and Queen Victoria later asks Prince Albert to marry her. As time goes by her now husband, Prince Albert gets comfortable in the eyes of the public and with political matter; thus, Prince Albert gets involved with Queen Victoria’s political workings. Albert talks to other prime ministers for Victoria and convinces some of Victoria’s Ladies in Waiting to resign in order to make the cabinet politically neutral. However, Albert’s behavior aggravates Victoria, hence she tells Albert that the reason he got involved was because he saw her “as a woman” and therefore felt the need to protect Victoria from the harshness of politics by speaking for her.

The clip below is the scene in which Victoria gives Albert the reasons why he got involved with her political matters:

Through Victoria claiming that Albert came to her protection because he thought of her as a woman implies that one, she is reinforcing the usual stereotype of women being weak and vulnerable, also, that Victoria sees behaving and being treated as a woman an insult. I found her statement really interesting and ironic because while she is a woman herself, Victoria wants to be treated like a man because she was ruling a country which is usually a role occupied by a man. Queen Victoria is seen as a woman who is successfully executing the role of a man, but she thinks that being thought of as a woman is being inferior to men. Also, at the end of the video clip, Victoria sees her husband as her subject first and then her husband. She wants to be seen as the Queen but never a woman.

I wonder how to create the political transformation, as stated by Mackinnon that will help eliminate sexual inequality if we have had strong, historical, female figures such as Queen Victoria that think of womanhood as a weakened state in her own eyes and the eyes of men. It comes back to women having to initiate such a change in society.

There is some disagreement on how I have interpreted the movie clip so I am curious to know if you think that the portrayal of Queen Victoria in the video clip was suggesting the inferiority of women or is Queen Victoria saying that she can handle her own affairs without a man’s inference solely for the fact that she is a woman?

"Let's Talk about Sex"

“Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be. Let’s talk about sex…” Salt and Pepper’s 1991 hit, “Let’s talk about sex” addresses, well, the need to talk about sex, in light of the fact that society treats it as this unspeakable taboo.  They not only mention how “it is…how it could be…how it was…and how it should be”, but they specifically call “all the ladies [to] talk about sex”.  Having had this song replaying in my head since class on Thursday, I was stoked to finally have the Vagina Monologues perform what Salt and Pepper have been preaching for almost 20 years: ‘talking about sex’.  The Vagina Monologues do not simply raise awareness to the fact that hundreds of thousands of females are mutilated, tortured, raped and murdered every year due to their sex and/or sexuality.  They also bring to light the truth and facticity (as Jean-Paul Sartre described it) of the female in a patriarchal society.  The fact that a male’s sexual reproductive organ is outside his body, is easily accessible, and is relatively simple to stimulate defines a facticity that is not true of females.  As those who attended the Monologues heard over the weekend, more females than one might guess, have never seen let alone sexually stimulated their vaginas.  The same remark is inherently untrue for penis-endowed self-proclaimed males. 

This biological facticity is something that I think has contributed to the long history of female sexual repression.  If females cannot see their sexual vehicle, and they are constantly told through structural forces and interpersonal relationships, that “sex is bad, naughty, dirty, etc.,” then, of course, we would expect female sexuality to seem non-existent.  Another contributing factor to the sexual repression of females is the act of masturbation.  Again, as we heard during the monologues, many women have never experienced an orgasm.  I blame this on the lack of masturbation among the female population.  If one were to poll say, Rhodes College, I would be surprised to find a significant percentage of females who, in fact, masturbate.  Why is this? Men will admit to doing it up to several times a day, everyday.  To males it is considered a “stress-reliever”, a form of “entertainment”, a sort of “sexual practice”, etc.  But for females, it is “gross”, “difficult”, and “a waste of time”. 

I believe this act is one way to liberate women from remaining caged sexual creatures, so as to get down with their sexy-selves.  Masturbation enables us to explore and experiment with our own bodies.  It can teach us what turns us on, the types of touch that stimulate and satisfy us, what rhythm and where.  We can discover our own methods of sexual response without having to think about a partner’s needs and opinions.  As women who have for so long been taught to “wait for a man to turn us on,” knowing how to give ourselves sexual pleasure brings us freedom.  And as Louise Nevelson said, “the freer that women become, the freer men will be. Because when you enslave someone, you are enslaved”.  

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Male Rape

Rape is typically defined as forced sexual intercourse or forced sexual intrusion, against the will of the victim. Historically, rape was defined as forced sexual intercourse, involving penetration, with a woman against her will. Though the law has been generalized to include homosexuals (men and women) and men who may be sexually assaulted by women, the vast majority of society still only sees forced penetration with a male sexual organ as rape.

According to Mackinnon, a scholar of violence against women believes that rape occurs because women resist. The male is the dominant in the action and the female is the submissive. If the female were to accept the assertiveness of the male, then what would be considered rape otherwise would become sex (208). Based on this one has to assume that men, because they are the aggressor, cannot be raped by another woman.

What happens when the woman becomes the aggressor and the man says no? The image itself is hard to imagine. And even if this was the case, people are reluctant to call it rape. The idea that a man can’t stop a woman from having sex with him or the thought that he would want to, is beyond many people, both men and women alike. Consider this, a woman gets drunk and goes to a room in an attempt to sleep it off. A man follows her into the room a little later and decides to take advantage of the situation. The girl is too inebriated to say no or fight back, however it is still considered rape because just because she was unable to say no, it does not mean that she consented. What would happen if the roles were reversed and it was the male taken advantage of in his drunken state? Honestly, nothing. More than likely, even if the male did feel violated, he would not report it to anyone. And even if he did come forward, is there actually a real chance that he will be heard or believed? And what if two women were involved? Can a woman rape another woman? Technically, neither would be considered rape if no biological (penile) penetration was done to the victim.

To me if sex if forced on someone who says ‘no’ or isn’t competent enough to consent, it should be considered rape, no matter what sex or gender of the aggressors or victims are. I am honestly interested in getting feedback on this topic. I want to know where some people stand on this and why.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mardi "Gaze"

This past weekend, I visited the cultural phenomenon of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Although I had a great time, I continually said that once I graduate from college, I would never return to the city during the time of celebration. After making this claim numerous times, both men and women’s reactions were all the same. Why? Why would I not return to the party of a lifetime or just a weekend of fun? To be honest, once I am a college graduate (or even a student) I think it would be hard to return to something that entirely taints the perception of women. The whole practice was embarrassing and seemed to fulfill every stereotype women have sought to overcome. I can understand nights here in Memphis or in college where things might get a little out of hand, but I don’t think anyone would disagree with me to say the amount of disgusting degrading actions preformed by women in New Orleans made me ashamed and yet understanding of why our systematic feminist structure is so hard to change. (Disclaimer: I know some of the people in this class may have gone and partaken in certain activities and I’m not trying to pin point specific ones, but as a whole the women representation was less than amusing)

To point out the moment I had had enough, I was walking down Bourbon where I had a man come up to me and yelled in my face “Girl, show me your boobs!” then preceded to smack my butt. The whole scenario reminded me of Fanon’s story in the train car, where the small girl calls him a bad name and instantly Fanon was objectified. Similarly, a man who I am assuming did not graduate from a place like Rhodes objectified me as woman, one willing to undress in the middle of the street and one that would be thrilled by his smacking my butt. It also made me think of male privilege. Like Fanon’s scenario, the little white girl will never undergo the same objectification of the full grown black man just as the man will never undergo the objectification of being yelled at like an object or machine that should be working.

Although I agree that both women and men need to be educated, I feel like women need to make a stand collectively before men will take the group as a whole seriously. From what I saw in New Orleans, it made me wonder how the women that seemed to enjoy the degrading attention of men can somehow find their individual pleasure within themselves as Irigaray would say. A lot of the women are from complete different social structures, families and education systems than what our class is use to and how do we approach this whole new group of women?

The Vagina Dialogues

Yesterday I attended my very first performance of The Vagina Monologues. I really enjoyed it. And I found myself thinking a lot about my identity as a woman.

But what struck me the most were the reactions in the audience, and especially some men's reactions. First of all, I found it great that the play attract women AND men.
A boy sitting next to me was really uncomfortable at some points. He and his friend were very silent and said to each other: "this is weird..."

And at first, I was angry! I wanted to tell him "no, this is not weird, this is what being a woman mean. And you'd better learn, if you want to be a decent man!"

I thought he was uptight. But then again, it hit me: he was scared. Scared of women's sexuality being out in the open. I mean, sexuality is scary. It is scary for all of us, otherwise, we wouldn't have to laugh about it to make it lighter, we wouldn't have so many studies to know more about it.

But then, I noticed other men. Older men. Those men were laughing, they were moved, most of them had a woman sitting next to them they seemed close to. These men were confident. They know that strong women do not emasculate men (as it was implied in the Dodge commercial). They simply want respect.

In a world where some of us are trying to change the rules of the game, I think we, women, need men like this. We need men who can not only accept but love strong women.
We need men who love femininity. Those men are essential. Because feminism is not about women going to war against men. It is about helping each other, understanding each other, and hopefully loving each other. Let's get to work.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Girls Gone Wild...kiddie style

Catherine McKinnon claims that, “Infants, though sensory, cannot be said to posses sexuality…because they have not had the experiences (and do not speak the language) that give it social meaning” (215).  This quote immediately brought to mind a recent conversation I had with my housemate about Noah Cyrus (Miley Cyrus’s younger sibling).  Ten year old, Noah Cyrus is a new face of “Ooh! La, La! Couture”, the children’s clothing line.  Along with Emily Grace (co-start in Hannah Montana), the two are preparing to market a line of lingerie for girls aged 9-14.  Believe it or not, these extremely young girls are posing in fishnets and short lacey undergarments in order to advertise their line to global consumers.  Fortunately, the latest update on this controversial fashion faux-pas reports that “Ooh La, La! Couture” will not be endorsing the children’s lingerie line. 

But Noah’s reputation does not rest here.  She has been highly criticized for playfully pole dancing at the 2009 Nickelodeon Teen Choice Awards, as well as for dressing as a dominatrix for Halloween, this past year.  It is interesting to see how boots, lace stockings, and a mini-skirt take on an entirely different connotation when worn by a ten year old compared to a 16 or 22 year old.  For some reason, females in high school and college are perceived to have a better understanding and sense of responsibility and autonomy to dress oneself in these outfits.  I beg to differ. 

As we were discussing today in class, there are structural and institutional forces that limit and produce what is considered “desirable”, “sexy”, and “pleasurable”.  I might be going out on a limb with this one, but I would propose that the majority of our class could agree that 9 and 10 year olds should not be sporting lingerie in their daily fashionable lives.  Yet, why the push for portraits of pre-pubescent girls in erotic dominatrix lingerie?  Who exactly is this clothing line for? If it’s for children, then I think we should reconsider what McKinnon is claiming about sexuality and age.  If it’s for adults, then shouldn’t we be a bit more concerned for the wellbeing of these children bordering on the line between child pornography and fashion design?  I see this particular debate over children’s lingerie as highlighting the controversy over the “allowed” and “not allowed” sexual acts and behaviors that characterize American politics, economics and social constructs. 


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Possibility of Change

Dr. J brought up an interesting point on Tuesday concerning the political activism (or lack thereof) of the “Jon Stewart” generation. I have nothing against Jon Stewart, but seeing as our generation is proceeded by the “Greatest Generation,” the baby boomers, and “Generation X,” I would have hoped for at least a more dramatic name for our generation. Nevertheless, I find myself agreeing with Dr. J that contemporary political engagement often seems to lack real substance. Instead, we resort to a struggle to outdo each other in wit and insult, rather than in rational debate. Perhaps this is a symptom of the truly mindboggling amounts of information that we have access to, which permits every political perspective, no matter how obscure, to receive the attention of millions on the internet. Whatever the cause, the fact is that the concern over the vitality of our political discourse is legitimate.

Of course, if the political dialogue is lacking this bodes poorly for the possibility of meaningful political action. I have noticed the sentiment expressed by many of my female friends and family members that significant changes to the gender construct and women’s rights in general are simply not possible. They tell me that it is not politically realistic to think that the gender construct, or even its inequalities will ever be entirely eradicated. I know that we try to conduct this class without restricting our political imaginations, and it is right for us to do so, but I have been wondering throughout the semester about the possibility of the changes that we speak of every day.

In many ways, civil and human rights have made great strides over the past century in this country. It seems that each generation has become more open to diversity, and I believe our generation, on the whole, to have less intolerance regarding race, sexuality, and gender than that of our parents. The election of Obama does not mean that racism is over in this country, but it serves as an excellent example of how our generation has already proven itself to be more racially accepting than those before it. Nevertheless, enormous problems of race, sexuality, and gender remain in this country, problems that I believe cannot be healed by the passage of time. Modification or destruction of the gender construct does not simply require the open-mindedness of youth, but rather a revolutionary shift in the basic assumptions of society. Therefore, my question to everyone on this blog is how capable do you think American and global society are of making these changes?

No One's Performer

Growing up, there was a definite construction of how gender was to be performed, as illustrated, verbally and experientially, through my parents. My mother performed all household tasks such as cleaning, laundry, preparing meals, and taking care of my sister and I. In addition, she worked with my father, is an incredibly strong woman, physically, and performed more of the labor tasks than he did, both in their professional job and on our farm. She also managed our finances. My father, on the other hand, performed his professional job alongside my mother and when they arrived home for the evening, he would tinker with things our barn, sit outside and watch the cattle, drive around the farm, or hunt. My sister, whens he was old enough to begin chores, was taught how to do the same jobs as my mother in the house while my father attempted to take me with him hunter or to do outside activities on the farm. From a young age I hated those activities and much preferred to be inside. In truth, I preferred being near my mother over my father. As I grew old, I began demanding to do the same tasks that my sister desperately hated because I was better at them and enjoyed them, to an advanced degree more than I liked outside chores. In fact, I loved to cook, clean, and do laundry. I also showed aptitude for things like arranging flowers, gardening, and childcare. Still, my father insisted I do ‘boy activities’ and my sister do ‘girl activities.’ Our parents were teaching us to perform gender, despite each of us resisting it heavily as children. Generation to generation force their children into gender roles at early ages, creating a sharp contrast between what is perceived to be masculine and feminine.

Happily, my mother eventually saw reason in the complaints from my sister and I. When I was around ten I started doing inside chores and gradually learned to manage our household as my parents professional career became increasingly more time consuming by my senior year in highs school. After all, how could they complain: my sister mowed our 5 acre lawn in perfect patterns, kept our pool clean and joined me in taking care of our cattle many evenings. My cooking progressed beyond the skill of my parents until I turned the skill into a catering business, my mother rarely had to perform household tasks, and most importantly, my sister and I were happy in our roles.

In high school, my skin was less than perfect and I had the strong urge to make it appear better using makeup. My mother questioned me about it, but explaining to her that it made me more confident, she allowed me to do what I pleased and often would tell me if I had a makeup line from foundation or if my coloring looked abnormal when I had gotten heavy with bronzer in the summer. My father never noticed, though I am quite sure he would have had an opinion. When I arrived at college, when friends found out that I often wore makeup and sometimes one of my favorite fragrances, Chanel number 5, a women’s fragrance, they criticized me for being feminine. I even painted my fingernails regularly, beginning with clear coats and progressing to blues and blacks. Certainly I received many stares for that, but I enjoyed seeing my nails shine in lacquered colors as I furiously typed or practiced at the piano. Eventually I gave up the feminine practices as I felt more people were commenting on these things. I felt uncomfortable, very different. Now I realize that I felt different because others were uncomfortable with how I performed my gender outside the stereotypical, heterosexist male role. Happily, if I have time and feel the need, I wear foundation, Chanel number 5, and even this amazing necklace a friend gave me last year (see photo). Feminine and masculine are constructs. I will wear what I want, and live my life as I see fit. I am no one’s performer.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Stop Rape- Say Yes!

I'm not sure I really agree with part of MacKinnon's argument regarding rape. She claims that rape happens because women are not allowed to have the same sexual freedom as men. Rape is an act of power- and women are not the only ones who get raped; thousands of men and boys are raped each year as well. If I am freer with my sexuality and engage in whatever sex acts I want, awesome. But if I'm at a party and a guy tries to have sex with me, that doesn't mean I'm going to want to have sex with him. Sexual freedom is about freedom. Therefore, I can have sex if I want to and with whomever I choose, or not. But that also means givings some R-E-S-P-E-C-T to everyone else. So, if I don't want to have sex with this guy I meet at this party, and he rapes me, does it really just come down to him being horny? I think not. Rape is an incredibly complicated, horrible thing all about control and power. And obviously less rape would occur if more women agreed to have sex with men and vice versa. So stope rape and say yes? Again, I think not. In my opinion, this particular part of her argument on rape is very weak where the rest of her argument is very strong.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Doctors "Do No Harm?"

In order to ethically practice medicine physicians are required by law to take the Hippocratic Oath. But what happens when these ethical standards are questioned?

In last weeks discussion on transgender Dr. Johnson juxtaposed two medical conditions: Transexuality and Apotemnophilia. Both of the disorders are recognized as psychiatric disorders however only one of these disorders can seek “ethical” medical treatment.

As defined in the text, “Medical descriptions of transexuality throughout the last forty years have been preoccupied with a discourse of ‘the wrong body’ that describes transsexual embodiment in terms of an error of nature whereby gender identity and biological sex are not only discontinuous but catastrophically at odds. The technological availabilities of surgeries to reassign gender have made the option of gender transition available to those who understand themselves to be tragically and severely at odds with their bodies…” Those suffering from transsexualism identify with a physical sex that is different from their biological one. Sexual reassignment surgeries are available to alleviate the distress caused by this condition.

Apotemnophilia, a form of Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID), presents as a psychological mental disorder in which one feels the desire to amputate a healthy limb in order to feel whole. No surgeon will operate on a patient suffering from apotemnophilia, seeing it as an ethical controversy to amputate a healthy limb. Patients who suffer from the disease are instead offered psychotherapy or medication. The uses of crutches or wheelchairs are examples of methods patients may practice in order to pretend they’re an amputee. Extreme cases result in self-amputation.

Both disorders are psychological. They stem from discordance with ones biological identity. Why then is surgery only available to one condition? Those in support of amputation for patients suffering from apotemnophilia believe that medication and therapy are not sufficient treatment. Those against amputation argue the implications and irreversibility of amputating a healthy limb. Female to male transsexuals terminate their ability to conceive. Irreversibility is therefore a flawed argument.

The popular drama Nip/Tuck focuses on a plastic surgery practice with each episode surrounding a unique case. The third season’s seventh episode “Ben White” (link provided below) presents a successful white middle aged,(most common sufferers of BIID), architect. He suffers from BIID and seeks medical amputation from the plastic surgeons. In the opening scene Mr. White poses the question that, “you have built your practice on body modification and I am no different than somebody who’d come to you for a sex change, would you turn him away?” The surgeons refuse to perform the surgery and the episode climaxes in Mr. White shooting himself in the leg, consequently his leg must be amputated.


It seems unethical to allow for patients suffering from a recognized disorder to remain untreated. Self-amputation and methods that these patients resort to are unsafe and preventable. Yes, it is a healthy limb but it is also a healthy life. One must consider the implications in refusing treatment.

I asked my father who has been a practicing physician for over twenty five years his perspective on the issue...

One has to also consider the Hippocratic Oath that states clearly: First, do no harm. Changing one’s identity from male to female may not necessarilty result in harm. Sterilization is performed routinely in both men and women (tubal ligations and vasectomies). One can live a full life whether a male or female. Other cosmetic “changing” surgery seems ethical when no harm is done.

However, amputation of an otherwise healthy extremity would certainly be viewed by many physicians as “doing harm.” Physicians are not obligated to do something that they view as harmful. Having said that, a physician who recognizes apotemnophilia as a disease (like transexuality or alcoholism) can ethically treat the disorder. Of course, treatment should be conducted in the best interest of the patient. It would seem logical to first send the patient for counseling, therapy to make sure this is in their best interest from a health perspective. Patients undergoing sex-change surgeries should probably undergo similar counseling prior to making this decision. Other (psychological) factors are often in play that may be severely regretted at a later date.

A similar argument (for physicians) can be held for abortion. Abortions in many places are legal. Some physicians feel that abortions are the ultimate “harm” and therefore won’t perform them. Others believe differently.

At the end of the day it should be remembered that both patients and physicians have rights. Patients have the right to refuse care of a physician. This has been tested at extreme levels such as refusing to accept blood transfusions from a doctor knowing that the blood would save their life and refusing it means death. Physicians similarly have the right to refuse treatment to a patient. No one can “force” a physician to care for patients in ways that he ethically finds objectionable. Treatment of transexuality and apotemnophilia should be handled in an individual way as a contract between patients and their physician.

Possible Aid to Fauto-Sterling

In Fausto-Sterling’s argument to deter infant surgery for the intersexed, she draws on a large batch of specific evidence, but I feel that she could benefit by appealing to Kantian ethics, and more specifically the categorical imperative. For a short introduction, the categorical functions as a sort of golden rule of Kantian ethics/deontology, as one should always act in a way that treats a person in as an end in itself and never as a means to an end. Here the language needs a bit of explanation: a person in the Kantian sense, is a rational being capable of performing from duty (which would exclude children and other non-rational beings), and means are similar to objects, because they have price in the sense that that do not hold any intrinsic worth and can be easily replaced. Ends are the contrast, as they would function to highlight the dignified intrinsic worth of a person.

While children may not follow under the category of person under deontology, this only serves to aid Fausto-Sterling’s argument. I think the consensus of the class was to let the intersexed individual choose to have surgery or not to have surgery at a later time, which would prove them to be autonomous. Deontology could suggest that this is all the more reason to let the child develop into a moral, rational being, and then let them make an autonomous decision on surgery or non-surgery. The importance of the matter lies in the agency of the intersexed individual instead of the doctors or the parents, which would be confirmed in deontology. While this does not solve the problem of how the child should be raised (along with images of the “which bathroom?” problem) or when its rationality should be deemed sufficient enough to warrant a decision on surgery, but it does seek to improve the autonomy of the intersexed. Without this justification of agency, the intersexed are being treated as means to an end of satisfying the gender and sex boundaries that are in place, albeit for the guise of the “convenience” of such operations. The intersexed are being objectified, as they have parts that are seemingly changeable/replaceable, and thus are not receiving the full benefits of a moral community. While I would agree that surgery must only be performed if the child’s life is at stake, other operation need to be postponed, as that would help restore agency to the intersexed, and combat dangerous surgeries and gender/sex confusions of the intersexed later in their life.

I believe that the argument could be strengthened with consideration to Kantian ethics, but also realize that this does not clear up how to raise the child/ I feel that agency is the most important matter of this debate, and Kant lends a helping in hand in how to characterize a dignified agency.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Well, What Is It???

On Tuesday we talked about intersexed children and the effects of the binary 2-sex gender system that our society adopts. I have really been thinking on this subject and it’s kind of hard to take a strictly academic look at this subject. The difficulty lies in my own identification as a woman and as a future mother. I feel as if we have been socialized to think that this is more of an anomaly than it is. We discussed the issue of this as a natural occurrence. If it is natural then it undermines the binary system that is in place and there would be the need to add categories that fit the bodies that are actually created rather that the ones that Western society deems as “good.”

What Fausto-Sterling is suggesting is that parents should stop making decisions on the sex of intersexed children at birth because of the physical and psychological issues that they would have to deal with later. She is in favor of the 5 sex system as it would be far more inclusive of transsexual people. I am on the fence about my personal feelings about whether a parent should raise a child intersexed as such. Fausto-Sterling makes a really powerful statement when she says, “We protest the practice of genital mutilation in other cultures, but tolerate them at home.” (125) Can we really draw parallels between these two things? I truly don’t think you can because a parent isn’t seeking to stop the sexual satisfaction of the child as much as it trying to save them the pain of living in a sexually ambiguous body. The society we live in currently makes it difficult to raise an intersexed child because we deem their body as an ambiguity because we can’t easily identify it as one or the other and if we create a category in which they could belong, we’d have to completely reconstruct a social system in which they are no longer “the other” or anomalous being. It seems to be that they parents choice is to choose between the lesser of two evils. Do I want to save my child from having to explain themselves for being sexually different and having to choose where they identify in their adolescence or do I choose for them and risk them feeling like an outsider in their own body? This choice is so difficult because it forces you to choose between allowing your child to foster their own sense of self or making it easier for them to socialize with the possibility that they don’t end up identifying with their gender.

Who’s to say whether these bodies are ambiguous? If we say that they are a “natural occurrence” then have we not already undermined the binary system by admitting that they are a less frequent biological norm? The floor is yours. It is written.

Becoming Women

Judith Butler stipulates that Beauvoir’s theory of earning womanhood is entrenched in the distinction between sex and gender. For Butler, performing gendered acts is in reality an action in which we create and perpetuate gendered roles. “The authors of gender become entranced by their own fictions whereby the construction compels one’s belief in its necessity and naturalness” (99). The inevitability that seems to stem from such a cyclic pattern is not reassuring, especially in a generation that considers itself liberated and progressive. If Butler’s claim that gender is continued by us as women, then it follows that our present mind-set telling us we are equal and powerful as American women is not only fiction, but a fiction we write ourselves into freely. The idea that we have reinforced our own submission in a farce of supposed freedom leaves a sick taste in my mouth, because it calls into question every choice we make as women. Maybe we don’t make choices, maybe we follow paths laid for us without thinking because we assume that we had some hand in their construction. To me, this does not seem like a far-fetched idea. It seems like reality.

One day I was speaking with a friend of mine and she told me that she wasn’t a feminist and in fact she didn’t believe in feminism because in this country, women are now equal to men and have been so for a long time. This statement was so foreign to me that at the time I couldn’t even respond. To me it was clear that women and men are not equal, especially in this country. Looking back on the conversation I can spot Judith Butler’s theory. My friend and I were both performing gender. I didn’t correct my friend or even try to explain what I felt. She dismissed feminism because she had been taught that she is free. We both are victims of the way our society shapes our thoughts and how we behave. “…to be a woman is to have become a woman, to compel the body to conform to an historical idea of ‘woman’ (99). If we become women by inserting ourselves into this cycle of creating gender, then we are simultaneously willing and unwilling participants in our own complacent submission. For me, this theory is nauseating because it suggests a world that completely controls our individuality to the point where we have none. Becoming a woman in fact means releasing our power to control our own lives. Our obeying the pattern of gendering roles makes us no different than women a hundred years ago, and that is a haunting thought.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Science and Erasing Social Norms

In class we discussed how gender creates certain biological differences in both men and woman based in part on Judith Butler’s essay. For example men are usually going to be naturally stronger than woman, and that women are the only ones who can bear children. However in the modern day we are able to overcome some of these of these biological differences using surgeries and medicine. For example women could take steroids, which would increase the amount of testosterone they have allowing them to get stronger. I also read an article that in the near future men could possibly have surgery and drugs that would allow them to bare children. Is this kind of modification morally permissible? Is it morally permissible to ignore nature? I ask this question because I am wondering whether or not these scientific breakthroughs destroy the identity of both genders, and is that right? These scientific advances would seem to destroy the differences between sex and gender. If science could eliminate the difference in gender, should feminists support such it? It would remove most of the differences between men and women, and it would make the two genders harder to tell apart. It could eliminate oppression because anybody could be any gender. Science would provide a way for women to overcome biological differences, and be able to compete in the same job as men. The difference in gender could become ambiguous which might eliminate the stereotypes of men and women that society often forces people to adhere to. After all if both sexes had the same abilities, why would people discriminate in work places? Both people have the same abilities, so why assume that a woman can’t do a particular job.

Aristotle, the famous ancient philosopher and sexist, argued that there was natural law that should not be violated. Aristotle argued that what was true of nature should be true everywhere. He makes many arguments based off of observations that he makes between men and women. While the use of natural law usually applies to issues such as justice, he looks at nature to make most of his arguments about how life should be lived. He would argue that if it’s true in nature it should be true everywhere else. Therefore he would argue that these advances would therefore be immoral because it defies nature. However many women might argue that these breakthroughs will allow women to be free from what constricts them biologically. No longer would they have to be the ones to have children, everyone would be capable of the same things, and it would be harder to tell the difference between the two sexes. Wouldn’t this mean greater freedom for everybody?

Reproductive Rights and Women’s Rights

When I think of women’s rights, one of the most basic issues that comes to mind is reproductive rights. A woman’s right to choose when and if to have sex, the right to use contraceptives, and the right to terminate a pregnancy are all rights that I believe women deserve to have control over. Thinking back to the panel discussion held last week on what it means to be pro-choice, all of the panelists agreed that to be pro-choice means to trust women enough to give them the power to decide what is right for their own bodies, their own families, and their own lives within their particular and unique circumstances. I believe that this is a correct definition, and that the foundation of pro-choice thinking is not pro-abortion thinking, but is exactly as its name suggests, pro-giving women the choice to decide for themselves whatever it is they want to do with their bodies. Therefore, the opposite of this way of thinking could not be ‘pro-life’ ; rather it can only be defined as anti-choice, taking away women’s power in choosing the future of their own bodies. However, it is with this train of thought that I run into a conflict. First, is it fair for men to be anything but pro-choice? How can any man decide what is best for a woman’s body if she is in a position that he does not have the capacity to understand? And secondly, what does it mean that so many women are ‘pro-life’? Why would any woman work to take away this power of choice from other women?

"You play ball like a girl!"

Structural forces are the meta-monsters of societies.  These seemingly inanimate networks of social and political laws, moral values, and institutionalized practices (such as chivalry) are the jaws of an all-consuming beast that stifles the actions and opinions of all individuals bred into its clutches.   Children in Kindergarten, Sunday school, Girl or Boy Scout camp, Sports practices, Dance practices, are going to be constantly exposed to the norms and acceptable behaviors to practice in order to “fit in”, or avoid punitive consequences.  These are institutional milieu’s that are vehicles for social conditioning.  We teach little boys to act this way and little girls to behave another way.  The verb choice illustrates a distinction between allowing boys to act out or be active, where as good little girls behave by the rules and behave our manners, generally, we just behave ourselves.  It is as though females are made to suppress the rowdy feelings of aggression and excitement at the sight of an open playground or neighborhood baseball field, while boys are taught to misbehave, so as not to end up a ‘sissy boy’.  In the baseball film, Sandlot, one of turning points of the film is when Scott Smalls (who goes by ‘Smalls’) is told by his mother to “Run around, scrape your knees, get dirty, climb trees, hop fences. Get into trouble for crying out loud”. This is one of the many examples of how gender roles are enforced though a familial institution; but even more so, this message is mass-produced for the world to consume and imitate. 

Regardless of whether one agrees with this claim or not, we must acknowledge the power in using the educational, extracurricular, and familial institutions as tools for indoctrinating new ideas and values in all future generations. When Pluto was struck from history books around the world as a planet in our Solar System, it didn’t take long for children to begin correcting adults, ensuring them that Pluto is no longer a planet—“read it in my textbook”, one might say.  Textbooks.  Also a dominant form of institutionalized education, spread to the masses of our young impressionable minds and bodies that make up our national and global communities.  Textbooks contain all the formally indoctrinated knowledge regarding the sex/gender system that was written by a specific group of people, with a limited and distinct content of “facts”, and are the sources of a vast majority of our fundamental and tacit knowledge.  But as we all know, just because the system works a certain way, does not mean it has to work that way.  Assuming this is a legitimate statement, can we not recognize the system for what it is and actively work against its reifying forces?

Judith Butler suggests that, “Gender is what is put on, invariably, under constraint, daily and incessantly, with anxiety and pleasure, but if this continuous act is mistaken for a natural or linguistic given, power is relinquished to expand the cultural field bodily through subversive performances of various kinds” (2008:107).  I interpret this to be the most accurate description of what goes on play-by-play to produce gender as a ‘natural’ phenomenon.  During our daily activities, from birth, we are exposed to emotional and physical stimulants that make us cry, laugh, smile, cower, scream, and get angry.  These same environmental factors primarily exist within the previously described educational and extracurricular institutions, as well as the familial institution.  Through interpersonal interactions, individuals are conditioned by incessant praise or punishment that shapes masses of individuals each day.  This phenomenological experience is mistaken for a ‘natural’ phenomenon, rather than one that is, both biological and socially shaped.  But by accepting our behaviors as purely natural, and by reproducing our discourse that reifies this belief, then as Butler exclaims, we are all contributing to a self-propelling system that constrains our horizons of expressions and possibilities.  We mustn’t be compliant with the repetition of our “subversive performances” anymore. Shan’t we broaden our choices, our language, our conceptualizations of ‘what gender is’ and ‘how is it constituted’, in our everyday conscious and self-reflected decisions? 









"Boys Have a Penis and Girls Have a Vagina!"

In class on Tuesday, Dr. J asked us to reevaluate the claim that gender is solely a social construct. We made a list on the board of things we thought were actual biological differences between male and female and another list of gender differences between man and woman. The task was to decide if any of the gender differences listed corresponded to any of the biological differences we decided existed. While we were doing this exercise we decided that the glaring biological difference between male and female are our parts. No one will contest that we cannot socially construct a penis or a vagina. I am sure that we all think our own biological sex is very real. Even as children, an aspect of identifying as on gender or the other comes through understanding the parts that one was born with. This makes me think of the scene from the classic film, Kindergarten Cop, when the little girl proudly stands up and exclaims, “Boys have a penis and girls have a vagina!!” The question then becomes is this the only difference that exists?

In class we also agreed that things such as strength might be another biological difference that exists. I was a competitive swimmer my whole life and I can tell you that the boys can swim faster than the girls. However, it was hard for me to accept the fact that many of the other differences I see between myself and a man are simply socially constructed. In her essay Judith Butler claims that she “will try to show some ways in which reified and naturalized conceptions of gender might be understood as constituted, and hence, capable of being constituted differently (98)”. Which conceptions of my gender then remain naturalized and which ones are constructions?

An essential aspect of my own identity as a woman in tied into my ability to have children. I know that this is an extremely personal part of ones identity and I do not discredit any woman who does not have or want to have children, but the fact still remains that women are the ones who have the ability to make babies. My mind keeps going back to this during all of our discussions concerning naturalized versus constructed differences in gender. It is important to me as a woman that I have this reproductive ability and I believe that it is one of those biological differences that crosses over the line on the board to the side of gender differences. I do not fully understand the biology of all the hormones we have in our bodies, but I do know that there are reproductive hormones in women that men do not have. I do not mean to imply that men cannot be nurturing or that women are slaves to their crazy baby hormones. However, this significant difference does exist and I think that it needs to be considered when examining the constructions of our gender norms.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


McIntosh’s article about privilege, specifically white privilege and male privilege, caused me to think about other types of privilege in our society. There are many privileges enjoyed by all groups of people that are never really acknowledged. In this piece, I will only talk about middle class privilege and heterosexual privilege though I acknowledge that many other privileged groups exist.

Middle class privilege will be defined as benefits enjoyed by members of middle class society that those who are not in this class, specifically lower class individuals, do not enjoy. Though this list will surely not encompass all of the privileges, it will hopeful serve to show that privilege is not only limited to a particular race or sex.

  • When at the grocery store, I can make choices based on other characteristics such as nutritional value, not just cost.
    • I can afford to send my children to schools that I consider the best because I can afford to pay for them.
    • If my child is struggling in a class, I can afford to provide a tutor for him or her.
    • If I or anyone in my family is sick, I can go to the doctor and pay for the medications that are prescribed.
    • If I or anyone in my family is sick, I can afford to miss work.
    • I can afford to take my family on vacations.
    • I can afford to live in neighborhoods where I feel safe.
    • I can afford a safe and reliable mode of transportation.

Heterosexual privilege can be defined as privilege enjoyed by members of society who engage in romantic relationships with members of the opposite sex. This list is only a fraction of the privileges enjoyed by heterosexual individuals.

  • I can hold hands with my significant other in public or show other forms of PDA without fear of what those around me will say or do.
    • I can bring my significant other to meet my family without worrying about if they will accept the relationship due to his/her gender.
    • I can expect to learn about other people with my family structure in class.
    • If I want to be married anywhere in the United States, I have that option.
    • I do not have to be told that my form of sexual expression is a sin.
    • My significant other can make medical decisions for me if necessary.

These lists serve to show that viewing oppression from a privilege standpoint can be enlightening for the privileged group. However, what does the privilege framework do for those who are not privileged? Should unprivileged individuals merely hope that the privileged group will out of the goodness of their hearts give up those privileges? While it is possible that some privileged individuals will elect to abandon those privileges, many will choose not to do this. Therefore, while it is important to enlighten people about the privileges they enjoy, it most certainly cannot be the only method of tackling oppression.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Where does it stop?

Sticking with the trend set by Colin and Manali, I also want to call into question issues of oppression in the music business. Manali wrote about misogynistic lyrics in “certain genres” of music. Now, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the rap and hip hop genres, in particular, tend to produce more songs that contain lyrics that are possibly offensive to women. I don’t profess to be any kind of expert on rap and hip hop; admittedly, I know very little about those genres. However, as an American consumer, I have been exposed to them and feel as though I can cite examples of sexism in those genres without assuming too much.

Let me invoke the example of hip hop’s golden couple, Jay-Z and Beyonce. A few years ago Jay-Z put out a song called “99 Problems.” While the song itself is actually about issues of racism, the most-repeated line is “I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one.” The message of the song itself is not sexist, but this line is unquestionably offensive. What woman is actually ok with a man referring to all women as “bitches”?

Well, clearly Beyonce is. Beyonce, who the public views as a strong, confident woman. Beyonce who has put out songs with (arguably) a positive message for women, such as “Irreplaceable,” “Single Ladies,” and, with Destiny’s Child, “Independent Woman.”

Jay-Z is definitely not the most misogynistic rapper, or musical artist, or man, out there. Far from it. But isn’t it just a little counter-intuitive for a woman—who has a mostly positive image and is considered by many a role model—to be with a man who refers so publicly to all of her gender as “bitch”? Why do any of us women love the men who, to different degrees, represent and embody the oppressive, patriarchal society?

I think Judith Butler gives us a possible answer to this enigma in her essay “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” On page 105 she says this:

“Performing [one’s gender] well provides the reassurance that there is an essentialism of gender identity after all. That this reassurance is so easily displaced by anxiety, that culture so readily punishes or marginalizes those who fail to perform the illusion of gender essentialism should be sign enough that on some level there is social knowledge that the truth or falsity of gender is only socially compelled and in no sense ontologically necessitated.”

The gist of this, as I understand it, is that we recognize, on some level, the influence of society on the roles that we play, and we know that people are not born hardwired to think or act a certain way. We recognize the influence of “nurture” on our “nature.”

This relates all the way back to the second day of class and the debate over door-opening. If I truly believed that a man opened the door for me because he felt I was weak, I would protest; yet, it is much more likely that he opens the door for me because he has been taught that men should open the door for women—not because we are physically incapable, but because it’s respectful. He’s just performing what he’s been taught to do, what society expects him to do. Others who observe a man not opening a door for a woman might think him rude or disrespectful; thus the social punishment for not fulfilling his role. Maybe in the same way Beyonce recognizes that Jay-Z, by calling women “bitches,” is not denouncing our sex as the equivalent of a dog (as that word implies), but fulfilling a cultural imperative to put out a certain image.

Door-opening out of respect is relatively harmless. What about men who have been socialized to believe that women actually are physically and mentally inferior, even worse those who are taught to act accordingly? Is referring to all of womanhood as “bitch” in order to conform to a cultural stereotype crossing the line? At some point we have to take a stand and stop rewarding unacceptable behavior while explaining it away as the fulfillment of a socially constructed role.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Feminist Lyrics

In “The Introduction to the Second Sex”, Simone de Beauvoir states, “ …she- a free and autonomous being like all human creatures- nevertheless finds herself living in a world where men compel her to assume the status of the other. They propose to stabilize her as object….”

After reading this quote, I began thinking about the music industry’s influence on the role of sexism in today‘s society. Women always talk about overcoming oppression and changing the face of the current sexist society; however, I think we subconsciously contribute to our own oppression especially through listening to certain types of music lyrics. I personally listen to certain genres of music simply because for the beats in that song but I never actually listen to the lyrics. When I do focus on the song‘s content, I realize how objectifying the lyrics are toward women, but women still listen to them.

The music industry is still growing today regardless of the lyrics that are created in songs. I wonder how to go about avoiding this problem which is one of the contributors to the sexism. So I am not sure how women can counteract this problem while enjoying music that explicitly objectifies females. Some would respond by saying that men need to change the lyrics they create to make them less demeaning. However, the other side of the problem is that sometimes these objectifying lyrics are sung by women themselves which other women listen to as well. Women write lyrics that stereotype the image of a female in society today. I still listen to the lyrics and contribute to the marketing of such music. Consequently, women are endorsing the image that is presented through these lyrics.

While I agree that we need to recognize men’s role in society, women are the ones who need to take initiative to eliminate their own oppression. I want to make it clear that I am not trying to entirely blame men for the overall oppression of women. It is more the result of women’s own actions that causes sexism in society today ; as Beauvoir says,” If woman seems to be the inessential which never becomes the essential, it is because she herself fails to bring about this change.”

Therefore, are women contributing to their oppression through listening to lyrics that objectify women and by encouraging male and female artists to continue creating such lyrics? Also, can a significant change be seen in the type of lyrics that are created without losing the essence of certain genres of music?

My Feminist Christmas

I had a very unusual Christmas Eve last year. Most families in the neighborhood were spending quality time together or were busy wrapping last-minute presents, but not my family. No, the Antaya family was engrossed in a tense feminist debate starting around six o’clock in the evening, when my aunt boldly declared, “it’s all men’s fault!”, until about nine o’clock, when I could be found apologizing to the four women in my house, my dad having taken the opportunity to escape long before. The debate was heated and rather circular, but a topic came up that I find relevant to our current discussion: namely gender as a self-generating cycle.

My aunt’s accusatory, and I would argue rather unfair, statement was made while she was flipping through the channels and came upon Mariah Carey performing in an outfit (if you can even call it that) which was quite revealing. Surprised and a bit offended, I asked my aunt to explain what she meant by that sweeping generalization. She told me that Mariah only dressed that way because the male dominated society made it so that she could not be a pop star if she dressed otherwise. In response, I pointed out, as most men would, that the vast majority of people in the audience were women, as were most of the consumers who bought her albums. In a business that often attracts fans more through visual displays than through original or quality music, it seemed to me that Mariah must have had her female fans in mind when she choose her outfit. Indeed, I asked, there are millions upon millions of women who aspire to “Hollywood” bodies and praise those who have achieved them, so how can this ideal be blamed entirely on men?

At the time, that seemed like full-proof reasoning. After reading Butler’s argument for gender as a self-perpetuating form of psychological oppression, however, I have come to realize that there really is no clear-cut answer to my aunt’s challenge. I think that my aunt’s claim was an oversimplification of a complex issue, but so was my response. I was right to argue that women do play a part in the continuation of the “Hollywood” body ideal, but I was wrong to not see that this perpetuation exists because our society tells each young woman that the body she is born with is less “feminine”, indeed less natural, than the airbrushed one she sees in magazines. When you believe, as our society continually indoctrinates, that having the gender “woman” is a natural classification and that a body like most female pop stars have is the most feminine, how can you avoid feeling that your body is somehow unnatural?