February 1, 2009
This article in today’s Times is great…well, almost. The article discusses the interesting and creative ways that middle class single mothers are successfully forming their own families of choice, made of up other families like them, who provide each other with emotional support and companionship, outside of the heteronormative nuclear family.
Some single mothers like Fran forgo romantic and sexual relationships for extended stretches, turning to one another for the help and companionship that spouses normally provide — filling up one another’s cellphone directories, thinking through whether to get speech therapy for a child who is talking late, snapping and sharing summer photos. They are friends, and also more than friends. The trips to the Outer Banks that Fran’s group takes represent a step toward an all-female, platonic, chosen extended family.
Cool, right? Until this gem:
For a woman of means to have a baby without a husband seemed to threaten the institution of marriage and, with it, family stability. Today’s single mothers by choice often do their utmost to prove that they’re not a threat to anyone’s social order, as Rosanna Hertz, a Wellesley College sociologist, points out in her study of 65 such women, “Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice.” After the award ceremony, Fran didn’t talk back to her pastor. For her, being a single mom isn’t a form of rebellion. She wants to share in middle-class norms, not challenge them. To spend time with Fran and her friend Nancy is to appreciate them as a couple of anti-bohemians: two middle-aged women in high-waisted jeans and tennis shoes, sitting and talking on folding chairs while soft rock and a mix of sweat and Lysol fills the air during their daughters’ Saturday-morning gymnastics class. Read the rest of this entry »
December 9, 2008
This post is about the PC game The Witcher, which someone I know has just started playing. But this post is less about the game and more about cultural representations and assumptions about gender and sexuality. He and I had a conversation around it today, which got me thinking a lot about female sexuality, male entitlement, and homophobia in our culture. So please bear through my discussion of the game to get the “big picture” analysis.
In browsing around the internets and reading people’s discussions around gender and sexuality in the game, I very often read these reasons for why the game isn’t “that bad” vis-a-vis women and (women’s) sexuality: the sex scenes are well done (they are in fact pretty tasteful) and the women aren’t represented as all dumb bimbos (as if commodifying women’s sexuality is only sexist if the women are represented as idiots.) My friend mentioned that in reading reviews, many women said the sex in the game wasn’t “that bad.” But in the game, it’s not really the sex that’s the problem.
At first, I thought that gender and sexuality in the game wasn’t so bad, but the more I was told the more troubled I became. Originally, I thought the sex in the game was just optional, with no reward attached, and the sex scenes aren’t gratuitous or very objectifying. Point one for the game?
Well, that’s not exactly it. Read the rest of this entry »
November 5, 2008
Since my master’s thesis was on marriage, normative gender roles, and the production of heteronormativity, I very much enjoyed Jon Stewart’s November 3rd commentary on Proposition 8 opponents (even though my own marriage politics is of the Beyond Marriage flavor).
He comedically points out that while those who are against the legalization of same-sex marriage rely on the definition of “traditional marriage” and the way it has “always been,” their arguments, if nothing else, are short term at best.
With traditional marriage, women were property exchanged between their father and their husband, often for the sake of political power, transferring wealth, and keeping the peace. And as Stephanie Coontz points out in her book Marriage: A History, the idea of marrying for love is a fairly recent phenomenon…perhaps less than 100 years old! Love and sexual faithfulness were less important feature of marriages than were the political and economic interests that were advanced by the union. “Marriages of convenience,” at many times, were actually quite normative at some times.
The bottom line is that there is no “traditional marriage” or marriage “norm” that we can either continue with or change. The fact is, that marriage ideals have always changed with societal changes, and often with changes in technology. Marriage’s definition has always been a social construction, and has always been related to political, social, economic, gender, and racial power. Stewart’s piece demonstrates this basic, yet unacknowledged fact:
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Even more, just like there is so “natural” definition and understanding of marriage–that it is a human construction that can be defined differently, the way we have organized societal obligations along the lines of marriage is also a construction, and so can be constructed differently. That we take the married family to be the social unit upon which our social assumptions are made is something that needs it change; it does not reflect the interests and realities of many Americans’ lives and their desired choices today. We have to stop foreclosing ways to organize one’s economic, reproductive, and sexual needs, as well as the way we wish to form relationships commitment other than heterosexual marriage. Just like heterosexual marriage is not what is always has been defined as, social organization does not have to be what it always has been. We can be creative in the way we organize our lives to meet our needs, if we can only decenter marriage as the central, normative, ideal set of living arrangements.
July 29, 2008
This is an provocative post at Jezebel about Buck Angel, a popular adult film actor who is a transman who hasn’t had, and doesn’t want, genital surgery. Author Megan argues that he is a feminist hero, and I find her discussion compelling.
But this comment was the best:
I want to understand. Really, I do. Brain is just not computing “man who doesn’t want a penis”.
The idea of a person who feels they’re a man but does not feel that a male identity depends on having a penis is extremely transgressive and threatening. Our society conceives of sexuality and attraction/desire in terms of genitals. Thus desiring men=desiring penises. In terms the cultural construction of male sexual activity, penises are absolutely crucial. Many feel that technically, no “sex” takes place without penile penetration
I’ve never really outlined this on my blog, but my personal ideas about sexuality and desire are along the lines of sexuality as fluid (not a permanent identity), that there are “a thousand tiny sexes” (not just binary male/female and gay/straight/bi), that sex acts are not definitive of sexuality, and that homophobia is a big part of heteronormative masculinity…and more.
Sure, I think sexual parts are important. To a degree. But I have also had discussion with people who say they are more attracted to x people (personalities) but to y bodies. Yet in mainstream notions about sexuality (same-sex or hetero), these ought to align. But why should they? And why can’t personality or physical attraction play different roles or emphases in our intimate relationships? I would argue that they already do…but not across gender lines.
For all we talk about transgression, seeing the response to Buck Angel made me realize that perhaps only transgression within certain boundaries can really be tolerated, by hetero and LGBT communities alike. If that’s the case, how transgressive are those actions really?
So I’m really intrigued about the impossibility of comprehending why a (“real”) man wouldn’t want a penis…in our culture, what does that make him? And what does this anxiety say about our own phobias about sexuality?
July 25, 2008
Ever since I heard Katy Perry’s song, I’ve been critical and annoyed. I intended to write about it but so many others have already done so, and their views pretty much align with mine, so I thought I’d make a few comments and link to other awesome posts critiquing the song.
I, like many others, see this song as a representation of the casual, non-threatening, “girl-on-girl” performative play that dominates the representations of women’s same-sex attraction or desire. It plays on the exact stereotypes about bi or same-sex female desire that I discussed in my recent post about Tequila’s Shot at Love. The song’s message is that after a little alcohol, I can make out with another female; I may have liked it for a woman’s softness, scent, and feel, but don’t worry, I don’t plan on dating one. Kissing a girl is something “fun” to do, not anything serious that my boyfriend would be worried about–it’s all fun and games and something to do when you’re drunk at the bar.
On many blogs people ask if this is a remake of Jill Sobule’s song from the 90’s, that was very transgressive at the time. It’s not–it’s nowhere near close. Consider:
I kissed a girl, won’t change the world
But I’m so glad I kissed a girl
And we laughed at the world
They can have their diamonds
And we’ll have our pearls
I kissed a girl
For the first time
I kissed a girl
And I may do it again
Us girls we are so magical
Soft skin, red lips, so kissable
Hard to resist so touchable
Too good to deny it
Ain’t no big deal, it’s innocent
I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry chapstick
I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it
It felt so wrong
It felt so right
Don’t mean I’m in love tonight
I’m pretty frustrated that this song is so popular. Its message is not at all daring, and really isn’t at all queer-positive, but instead actually reinforces the status quo vis-a-vis female sexuality (performing as lesbian for male desire, that it’s “hot” for women to casually play around with chicks, but don’t worry, they’ll always come back for a Man), and it is actually a dangerous co-opting and erasure of queer female sexuality.
I was even more annoyed that this song was played at Saturday’s Gay Pride celebration here in Rochester, NY. One interesting thing: almost all the people I saw singing along were…men.
Other Smart posts about this song:
…7/29: I just stumbled on this one I had bookmarked a while ago from show me your wits!
July 16, 2008
I was reading a post on Violet Blue’s blog (NSFW) and she mentioned that Fleshbot (Gawker’s Sex and Porn blog) was doing a series on requests for sexual material that the readers want to see. I thought “cool” and checked it out, only to disappointedly discover the series has only been of women bodies. Sure, they had redheads or small-breasted women, but considering how hard impossible it is to find decent quality free pics of het guys for het women, I would have expected some of that.
But, as I would soon find out, my expectations were based on faulty assumptions. Because curiously, the tabs at the top of the main page say “gay” and “straight.” Guess what images are in the “gay” section? Naked men. And to their credit, just glancing down the 1st few archived pages, it seems like most of them are either actually gay or at least do gay male porn. The images in the “straight” section? Glancing at the first few archived pages, all women. One het couple, that was clearly focusing on the woman’s dirty bits. And several female couples or groups.
Silly me. Why should I have expected that “reader requests” would include het men on a site where gay=male viewer and straight=male viewer, and where lesbian imagery is classified as straight, not gay, just like the malestream Adult Video Awards. If my math is right, when men are shown in the “gay” section and women are shown in the “straight” section, that means that the assumed Fleshbot viewer=male, even thought their tagline, “Since 2003: where sex, porn, and the web collide,” doesn’t specify: mostly for if you’re a dude or a chick who only likes mainstream porn made for dudes. I mean, kudos (I suppose) for having a site with both gay and straight porn; if only your definitions of gay and straight weren’t so, well, male-centered.
I’m so f-ing sick of the blatant ignorance and erasure of female desire (het or queer) when it doesn’t comply with the “liberated girls [sic] take off their clothes!” and “liberated het chicks [sic] think other chicks are hot!” bullshit. Not that those aren’t/can’t be true. But there’s much more to women’s sexuality than what appeals to het men’s sexuality. And I find the refusal to allow het guys for het women to mingle in the “straight” section with all the stuff made for men, lest the het men might get threatened, or even worse, turned on! Heaven forbid a guy might actually have to look at a sexualized man’s body, or find out he might actually admire another guy’s sexuality. Or have to deal with his female significant other looking at porn focused on or equally focused on guy parts and not just lady parts. Cuz I guess it’s hot when your het girlfriend recognizes a woman as sexy but gross! gay! if a het guy does. Oh the double standards! Oh the repressive legacy of a half-assed sexual revolution that masquerades as “liberated”!
How about this radical idea, Fleshbot? How about divide your categories by content, i.e. solo male, solo female, group male, group female, and not by subject position, then viewers of whatever gender or sexuality can decide what content suits their desires instead of you heteronormatively and sexistly (yeah, I made that word up) deciding it for them, K?
July 15, 2008
Well, I finally finished. Today I submitted my Master’s Thesis. It is now in the hands of FedEx via the US Postal Service. I have done several posts that in one way or another relate to my project, so I thought I’d share with you the title, abstract, and Table of Contents to get an idea of what I’ve been working on:
A Critical Analysis of Marriage in the United States as a Discursive Site of
This thesis is a critique of the United States’ adherence to marriage as the primary organizing feature of both social life and civic status, which in turn perpetuates gender inequality and heteronormative structures. This thesis demonstrates how ideal American citizenship requires participating in marriage, which further maintains the gendered public/private divide. The analysis concludes that since marriage is not one institution, but rather is comprised of cross-institutional practices, it persists in producing gender hierarchy in spite of the equalization of marriage laws and economic practices in the latter half of the twentieth century. Further, the cross-institutional nature of marriage means that legalizing same-sex marriage is unlikely to fundamentally change the discursive meaning of marriage and that same-sex marriage will be subject to the same normalizing and marginalizing effect of marriage practice.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: What the Same-Sex Marriage Debate Tells Us About Normative Marriage…1
i. Same-Sex Marriage Advocacy: “We” are Just Like “You…3
ii. Marriage is Not a “Path to Liberation”…11
iii. Queer Theory: Same-Sex Marriage as a Site of Regulation…17
Chapter 2: Citizenship, Marriage, and Gender in the United States…25
i. American Political Philosophy, Citizenship, and Marriage…27
ii. Citizenship and Marriage in Public Policy: The Cases of Native Americans and Polygamists…31
iii. Slavery: Property Cannot Make Contracts…34
iv. The Importance of Sexual Citizenship…37
Chapter 3: Shaping Normative Families Through Taxation and Social Welfare…45
i. The Depression and the New Deal: Marriage Norms Through Economic Policy…46
ii. 1990s Social Welfare Reform: Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program…52
Chapter 4: ‘Home Economics’ as a Means of Producing Gender…62
Conclusion: De-centering Heterosexuality and Normative Gender…82
July 14, 2008
Wow. So the other night I was just mindlessly watching “The Soup” on E! as I got ready to go out, and let me tell you, I needed a drink after that. Can I just say that I saw this coming long ago when my women’s studies students informed me there’d be a new romance reality show featuring a bisexual woman, and thus, both male and female contestants. (First aside, this show could have never happened with a male bisexual, which is so unacceptable in our culture.) Yes, I’m talking about Tila Tequila’s “A Shot at Love.”
And yes, I realize I’m actually spending time discussing the Myspace queen who stupidly takes credit for making gay marriage acceptable.
Now I didn’t see the whole show in question but I looked it up later to watch the relevant snippets. “The Soup” reported that the final episode of “A Shot at Love” had Tequila choosing between a woman and a man, and during the episode the woman has some sort of breakdown. Apparently, being chosen by Tequila must be a huge commitment because she is SOO torn over…wait for it…if she “wants a man or a woman.” (follow this link for the clip of the actual episode-the scene in question is at 1:05 remaining on the clip). As the host Joel McHale rightly comments, “I thought that was sort of implied when you said you were a bisexual.” Of course, Tequila chooses the woman, and, on cue, the woman declines.
“The Soup” posits that this was done to have a 3rd season of the show, which is very likely, but it also conveniently qualms our fears about the threat of lesbian sexuality and reiterates stereotypes about bisexuality to make it less threatening, more hetero-affirmative, and indeed co-opts it for male heterosexual desire. Tequila just couldn’t choose a woman and live happily ever after. The show being comprised of both guy-girl and girl-girl action was likely primarily intended to titilate the hetero male mind, not to actually show a loving caring relationship between two women external to any male pleasure. I mean, everyone knows that lesbians can only be seen if they’re heterosexually-validated as “hot”…and if we can watch. And bisexuality? That’s really just for bar games and threesomes. So of course, any serious attempt at an intimate relationship between two women must be thwarted.
(I do realize that I’m trying to ascribe a serious relationship to reality show couples, and how much that just seems goofy. But if they’re trying to make us think this is serious love, I’m going to treat it as such.) Read the rest of this entry »
June 11, 2008
This Boston Herald headline refers to a lesbian couple as “galpals.”
The article refers to their being lesbians, and that they are in fact a couple, but I’m not sure how being lesbians get equated to being just friends in the headline. Way to make their sexuality invisible.
This on the back of the obscenity of lesbians kissing.
June 6, 2008
from CNN.com (not to mention a slew of radio talk shows!):
Lesbian kisses at game ignite Seattle debate
The usher, Guerrero said, told them he had received a complaint from a woman nearby who said that there were kids in the crowd of nearly 36,000 and that parents would have to explain why two women were kissing […] The code of conduct — announced before each game — specifically mentions public displays of affection that are “not appropriate in a public, family setting.” Hale said those standards are based on what a “reasonable person” would find inappropriate […] “I would be uncomfortable” seeing public displays of affection between lesbians or gay men, said Jim Ridneour, a 54-year-old taxi driver. “I don’t think it’s right seeing women kissing in public. If I had my family there, I’d have to explain what’s going on.”
This is the very definition of heteronormativity. This is the kind of thing Queer Nation used its performances/demonstrations to point out. This kind of thing is not just a double standard but it’s evidence that “acceptance” of queer people does not mean social equality and does not mean that we have by any means had any sort of self-reflexive pondering of what sexuality means and about assumptions about sex, gender, and sexuality.
Why do we have to “explain” queer sexuality? Shouldn’t we need to “explain” any sexuality? Is it really time to pull out the Heterosexual Questionnaire to point out the lunacy of Jim Ridneour’s statement? Read the rest of this entry »
May 20, 2008
This post has been a long time coming, but this recent news put me over the edge: Remember back in March when I wrote about the Oklahoma Peeping Tom? He took cel phone photos up a minor’s skirt while shopping at Target; the charges were dropped because their Peeping Tom law only applies to situations where privacy is expected, and according to the ruling, privacy cannot be expected in public.
The key in these cases is “a reasonable expectation of privacy.” We ladies should be getting the message loud and clear now: we cannot expect bodily privacy in public. We cannot merely exist in public. In public, our bodies are subject to public ownership. We can only expect privacy in our homes. And in a marriage situation, some people don’t even think we should have that.
Twice now in the courts, and resonant with a culture that sees catcalling as a compliment or that thinks women like Uma Thurman should be flattered at stalking and unwanted sexual advances (because I s’ppose we should be thankful we’re oh so irresistable?!), it is becoming more and more clear that women appearing in public are open for the business of sexual consumption via harassment and now even more violations of physical privacy and integrity. The assumption is that any woman who is attractive or dresses sexy desires ogling…otherwise she wouldn’t dress that way, or wear a skirt short enough to photograph up it. (Gee, isn’t this all starting to sound an awful lot like most rape apologists?) And that women who dare to exist in public or online or anywhere where they can be viewed by someone are fair game for subsequent sexual remarks, objectification, physical criticism, circulation of images…
- all women are heterosexual (since they dress “like that” for male attention)
- all women dress themselves according to how and when they want their physical appearance to be evaluated
- all women’s public existence is primarily and ultimately for the benefit of men
I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, mostly regarding how people seem to lose all personal privacy upon public existence. In a culture like ours that sees women primarily as sexual objects, that any woman becomes subject to harsh criticism or objectification regarding their appearance (regardless of its relevance), this is becoming a huge problem for women. Pragmatically, we seem to have very little expectation of consent to our images being taken, and also taken out of context.
For example, if a woman signs a model release for nude artistic photography, she is consenting to a particular context of the images. The images cannot then be sold as pornography, or she would have grounds to sue. This type of consent does not seem to operate in the real world in the age of the internet. And if it does, considering the vastness of the internet, it seems hard to keep tabs on.
Let me provide some actual examples that have gotten me pissed off: Read the rest of this entry »
May 8, 2008
I was just re-reading Adrienne Rich’s influential essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” for the thesis chapter I’m writing. In reading it, I was particularly struck and rather saddened by how so much of what she said is still relevant nearly 30 years later.
Quick summary of Rich’s article: an institutional analysis of heterosexuality is needed. Most feminist texts (at least at that time) assumed that heterosexuality is “desired” by “most” women. Rich argues that this can only be assumed because we do not consider the ways in which heterosexuality is compulsory for women, and the article in part suggests many of the ways it becomes compulsory. Further, adherence to heterosexuality requires lesbian invisibility, which is also produced in many ways (including lesbian visibility in terms of exotic or fetish for male pleasure and the need to present oneself in terms of heterosexual desirability and availability, as indicated by the quote below).
Unfortunately, I don’t have time for much actual exegesis, but I wanted to post one of the quotations that I found particularly interesting.
In discussing Catherine MacKinnon’s Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination, Rich says:
Two forces of American society converge; men’s control over women’s sexuality and capital’s control over employees’ work lives […] Economically disadvantaged, women– whether waitresses or professors– endure sexual harassment to keep their jobs and learn to behave in a complaisantly and ingratiatingly heterosexual manner because they discover this is their true qualification for employment, whatever the job description. And, MacKinnon notes, the woman who too decisively resists sexual overtures in the workplace is accused of being ‘dried-up’ and sexless, or lesbian.
[…] A lesbian, closeted on her job because of heterosexual prejudice, is not simply forced into denying the truth of her outside relationships or private life; her job depends on her pretending to be not merely heterosexual but a heterosexual woman, in terms of dressing and playing the feminine, deferential role required of ‘real’ women.
We see that this happens not just in the workplace but in social identity generally. But aside from identity production, that there are economic consequences that emphasize the need to present heterosexual femininity, whether lesbian or not, perpetuates both gender inequality and the erasure of lesbian existence.
Read it in full:
journal article (accessible through most universities)
in her book, Blood, Bread and Poetry
April 11, 2008
Both feministing and Jezebel reported this week that a Thesaurus.com entry has shown up for the word “weaker” where the only two entries are “female” and “lady.” The entry has been removed so you can view the screenshot here.
My guess is this was supposed to be some sort of a joke, since not only have those two synonyms been removed, but if you look up “weaker” in Thesaurus.com, there is no entry for it, period, only for “weak.” From looking at the site, though, it doesn’t seem to be user-generated so if it was a joke, it was an “inside” one or a hacker–I hope.
Not only am I bringing this up because it is so blatantly sexist, not to mention completely unproductive, say for a student needing a real synonym, but because this connects a great deal to my previous post about gendered-language and the denigration of the female that is encapsulated by the term pussy, but also because language politics in terms of gender/sexuality has been popping up in the news. A couple weeks ago, weakness was aligned with femininity in the recent commentary on Obama’s bowling performance, and Christopher Hitchens’ characterized (gay male) Andrew Sullivan as acting like a ‘lesbian’ in order to insult him.
This Thesaurus.com incident proves how deeply embedded these associations are in our culture– whether it goes to show that woman is “officially” connected to the meaning of “weak” or that a hacker understood this cultural connection and attempted to embed it into institutional discourse.
The synonyms they provide for the “weaker” synonyms “female” and “lady” are seems to be taken from the actual entries for various woman-related terms. And as long as we’re talking about language and thesaurus.com, lets do some word analyzing.
noun–amazon, babe, beauty, broad, cutie, dame, doll, dowager, duchess, femme, filly, fox, gal, gentlewoman, girl, lady, madam, mama, matron, petticoat, pinup, seductress, she, siren, sis, skirt, temptress, tomato, wench; adjective–changeable, child-bearing, delicate, effeminate, effete, fair, feminine, fertile, gentle, girlish, girly, graceful, ladylike, maidenly, matronly, modest, muliebral, oviparous, petticoat, pistil-bearing, pistillate, pure, refined, reproductive, sensitive, she-stuff, shy, soft, tender, twisty, virgin, vixenish, weak, womanish, womanlike
noun- ape, beefcake, boy, bruiser, buck, bull, chap, dude, father, fellow, gent*, gentleman, guy, he, he-man, hunk, jock, john, macho man, papa, stud, tiger, tom, wolf; adjective-macho*, manful, manlike, manly, potent, virile
Notice anything? Perhaps an emphasis on sexual appeal in terms of being female and sexual action in terms of being male? Perhaps mostly terms of confidence, self-identity, and positivity for male while female terms are largely relational (not individual), object-like, or negative.
- Most of the entries for female and male regarded adults. However, while “girl” is among the 12 listings for “female,” “boy” is not listed among the 14 listings for “male.” I suppose there’s a significant difference between a boy and a male, whereas between a girl and a female, not so much.
- Curiously, “men’s movement” and “misogynist” is part of “male” while women’s movement is absent from the “female” listings.
- “Drag queen” is under the “female” listings (not male).
- “Matronly,” and “daughter” are part of female, while “family jewels,” “virile,” and “male pattern baldness” are in the listings under “male” (though male pattern baldness is notably not part of the definition of male), rather than “fatherly” and “son.”
- There is a separate entry for “gigalo” under the male listings, but not “prostitute” under female. Maybe that’s because pinup, seductress, temptress and vixenish are all definitions of “female,” and “call girl” is one of the first listings under the search for “girl.”
So how about looking at “girl”:
babe, baby doll, bird, blonde, bobby-soxer, boytoy, broad, butterfly, canary, chick, coed, cupcake, cutie, dame, damsel, daughter, deb, debutante, doll, female, filly, gal, jail bait, lady, lassie, mademoiselle, maid, maiden, minx, miss, missy, mouse, nymph, nymphet, piece, queen, schoolgirl, she, sis, skirt, spring chicken, teenybopper, tomato, tomboy, virgin, wench, witch, woman
buck, cadet, chap, child, chip, dude*, fellow, gamin, guy, half-pint*, junior, lad, little guy*, master, punk*, puppy*, runt*, schoolboy, shaveling, shaver*, small fry*, sonny*, sprout*, squirt*, stripling, tadpole*, whippersnapper*, youngster, youth
Looking at the girl/boy listings, of which there were 50+of each…
- In the first few for “boy” were such listings as “boy wonder,” “office boy,” “mama’s boy,” “playboy”–one for boy’s employment, one for a non-boyish boy, one for a boy’s intellectual genius, and one for a man’s (active and selfish) sexuality.
- In the first few for “girl” we listings like “girl Friday,” “bachelor girl,” “call girl,” “cover girl”–one for girl’s employment, one for her marital status, and two for her (passive) sexuality.
- Note that tomboy (the arguably female equivalent of mama’s boy) is part of the definition of girl whereas mama’s boy it outside of the definition of boy itself. This here reveals how ingrained how threatening troubling gender roles is for hegemonic, heteronormative masculinity in a way that it isn’t as much for girls…so long as they are also “reproductive” and “pinups.”
- Several of the terms for girl referred to sexuality, while the terms for boy simply referred predominately to youth. Even further, the sexual terms are those of the ubiquitous male fantasy of girls’ sexuality: virgin and nymph, whereas the sexual terms related to (adult) “female” tended to cluster around her dangerousness: temptress, seductress.
- The boy is primarily a young man, whereas “girl” seems to have a discursive function of its own, producing a sexualized and appearance-oriented image of young femininity that will be coupled with being wifely and motherly as an adult female.
You might be thinking, “it’s just Thesaurus.com…what’s the big deal?” Well, Thesaurus.com and Dictionary.com are heavily used and are considered reputable sources. And words mean things. Language shapes thought, and what we are able to think. So long as we overload terms for female with passivity, sexualization, objectification, and motherhood, and male with activity, active sexuality and prowess, we will continue to think of men and women in these terms. Think about it–what do we call a woman who’s sexually active–slut, loose, whore? What do we call a passive male sex object? Um, hunk…maybe? Or meaty? And of course juxtapose those terms with “delicate,” “weak,” and “sensitive,” and maybe now we’re seeing this isn’t just an issue of a word or two.
And when “mama’s boy” is an anomaly of “boy” while “tomboy” is part of the definition of “girl,” we have some serious heteronormativity in our language. And when nymph and virgin, doll and cutie are the way we think of young girls rather than simply being not-yet women, some light is shed on our incredible social problem of girls’ sexualization and the sexualization of the young and vulnerable (even if legal) in general. And why is there no term for an intelligent girl, like we have for “boy wonder”….just “cover girl”?
When we can’t think without words, when we understand that words do not simply reflect our thought but actually shape it, we can begin to understand that they’re not just words.
cross-posted to The Reaction
March 27, 2008
This is brilliant, and nothing less than I would expect from Stipe and R.E.M., who recently stated he’s a “queer artist.” This seems to me to be a response to his frustration over needing to “come out”; his lack of doing so had been read as “cowardly” rather than about one’s sexual and intimate life being irrelevant and no one’s damn business.
The coming-out parody that he performs is not with the point of criticizing “coming out,” which for may queers is an important act, especially considering the history of queer invisibility. Rather, this parody reveals culture as heteronormative in that heterosexuality is assumed unless said otherwise and unless marked properly. It operates in a similar fashion that following up the question, “When did you first realize you were gay?” with “When did you first realize you were straight?” does.
In our culture we have a compulsion to know one’s sexuality identity, which we presume tells us the “truth” about an individual, the “truth” of their sex acts, and allows us to render people’s action, speech, and beliefs more meaningful due to the centrality that sexuality plays in how we conceive identity. Sexual identity becomes the way we can be explained and understood. (See Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality vol. 1, summary here)
This was especially evident in the J.K. Rowling/Dumbledore is gay incident this past fall. The announcement upset people because his sexual identity as gay was not made explicit in the text. Rowling’s after-the-fact “revelation” of Dumbledore’s sexuality operated less like a “coming out.” Instead it underscored the cultural assumption of heterosexuality as the “default” sexuality, showing it to be normalized and exnominated. The personal lives of the book’s adult characters were almost never discussed, yet this only became an issue because Dumbledore happened to be gay and therefore his personal life became of the utmost importance in making sense of his character. In the books, there was no lover, no obsession with musical theatre, no use of the word “fabulous!” I’m exaggerating of course, but what I’m indicating is that there was no overt way that the text produced him as gay. There was also no “coming out” moment in the text and he was not introduced as “gay” in the character’s initial introduction (to the dismay of some gay activists). Of course, after the “revelation” people went through the texts and tried to re-read his character, with this “truth” in mind, and could thus “produce” him as gay.
I mean, look at the photo used to illustrate the BBC story, the caption “R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe in performance”:
This complusion to know and distinguish genders and sexualities by making meaning of bodily acts really reflects back onto heteronormative culture and how fragile and vulnerable its own construction is.
This isn’t to deny the value of “coming out”-clearly visibility of queer individuals as successful and caring people, present in every aspect of society is part of what is needed to disrupt social stigmas and assumptions. But I also think what Stipe is doing here is important too, and provokes a much-needed conversation about recent centrality and importance of sexuality to/as individual identity.
March 26, 2008
Feministing recently posted about a new Taco Bell Promo, calling it “misogynistic.” Since then I’ve seen a bit in the anti-feminism segment of the blogosphere, up in arms because “the feminists are at it again!” bitching over nothing because our abundant gender equality makes it so we have nothing else to complain about.
To be honest, I didn’t think the ad was misogynist (as in perpetuating woman-hate), and I just moved on to reading the next feministing story. But me not classifying it as misogynistic doesn’t mean it isn’t deeply problematic.
The whole promo is this: you can “pretend” you are a fashion photographer by taking still images from digital video footage of a model on location (who happens to be in the current SI swimsuit issue, to be discussed further down). Yes, you read it right. It’s really that stupid.
But, it’s also problematic.
This report from MarketingVox hits the nail on the head:
SI and Taco Bell promoted the site with online ads on MTV.com and ESPN.com, as well as other sites with a large male audience.
- Whether or not men are the largest consumer “category” of Taco Bell (thereby justifying addressing its advertising to men) is inconsequential. Promos like these that directly and unapologetically target and reward heterosexual men treat all other customers as irrelevant. That there are more customers from one demographic group than another does not justify acting like the others don’t exist.
- It also assumes that women’s bodies are generically understood as THE body that should be objectified-that women’s bodies do and should operate as desirable objects for heterosexual men and women alike. The creators might indeed respond by claiming that many women (lesbians too?) will enjoy the interactive site. But this begs the question, if it really is a both-gender activity, then why the heavy promotion on sites with large male audiences? If it is really seen as a gender-neutral activity, then why tailor the advertising of the promo to men as well?
- And it’s insulting to and generalizes men as well. It’s clear to me that this was thought to be a reward for heterosexual men-something that they would want to spend time doing in the evening, and also taking in the advertising for the new Taco Bell products. This a pretty shallow assumption of how men ideally spend their time and what they find compelling and valuable. And did I say yet that it’s pretty dumb?
- Even more blatant, yet also often forgotten, there is an enormous amount of heteronormativity going on here. For even if the justification for the promo is that the Taco Bell audience is mostly male, there is the underlying assumption of the heterosexuality of those men. How else do you explain a promo targeted at men that rewards them with being able to “direct” (yes, the promo is called “Directing Danielle,” which is kinda icky) the photographing of a swimsuit model?
Why don’t they allow the winner to have a choice of model?, you ask. That would make sense to me. But that would presume that the promo is actually about the interactive activity on the website. But it’s about corporate sponsorship. The problem is that the promo is sponsored by none other than Sports Illustrated, who invests more money and energy in promoting (non-athletic) women’s bodies for visual consumption than in proper news coverage for female athletes. The mere existence of the swimsuit issue from a sports magazine (!) reminds us that the appropriate culturally-sanctioned use of women’s bodies is not athletics, not strength, not aggression, not speed, not size, not bulk, but is being a sexually desirable object, that’s small, that doesn’t take up too much space, that is passively sprawled out for display, and one that is always, always available
But the Taco Bell promo is not about being able to photograph a model. It’s about sponsorship revenue from a “Sports” news magazine that can’t seem to realize that strongly advocating women as sex objects for the heterosexual male viewer, the consumer of choice, has no place in a magazine that is supposed to be about sports-women’s and men’s sports, with readers who are female and male, heterosexual and queer, white and people of color.
No one needs to apologize for finding women attractive, and this criticism does not suggest that finding a person attractive is wrong. But the problem here is the assumption that (straight men) are the center of the world and that women’s bodies alone are the ubiquitous symbol of sexuality and beauty. And that’s what needs apologizing for.
March 15, 2008
In “The ‘best’ is an enemy of the ‘good'” Dr. Charlie Glickman at the Good Vibrations blog writes what I’ve thought. We should strive for pleasure, not achievement.
It’s also important to remember that having good sex is not the same as a) looking “good” having sex, or b) looking like you’re having good sex. Said otherwise, what looks good isn’t always what is good.
I think a significant aspect of sexual displeasure is in the conjunction of 2 assumptions: that people in porn are having the best sex and that “I don’t have sex like that”. This is evident in the way we say “fu-k like a porn star” or the periodical Maxim article “How to date a porn star/stripper”. The assumption is the actors who are paid to “look like” (whatever that means) they are are having the best sex ever actually are. I’m sure they are sometimes and sometimes they’re probably planning the week’s dinner menu’s while they’re continuously and monotonously moaning. The other assumption comes from the first: if they look like they’re having the best sex and I don’t have sex like that then maybe I’m not having the “best” sex.
And lo and behold, we have magazines that tell us how, in stories recycled on a quarterly basis, to have this “best” sex. And the cycle of culture continues.
What the article doesn’t go into are the gender-variations on this theme in magazines. I have been meaning to do research on this by purchasing a year subscription to Maxim and Cosmopolitan (anyone want to fund me?!) and comparing the cover stories and analyzing the ads. Unfortunately, I really need to write my Master’s Thesis first. I don’t have the statistical proof, so we’ll leave it at my observation: women’s magazines articles around sex tend to focus on sex that “your man” wants, “your man’s” secret desires, how to please “your man”; men’s magazines tend to focus on how to get “your girl” (not woman!) to do —“, how to get a hottie to sleep with you, how to convince your girlfriend to let you go to strip clubs. Notice a trend? I’m not saying articles that focus on women’s own sexual pleasure don’t appear in Cosmo or that Maxim doesn’t ever have a story about pleasing your girlfriend, but these are significantly disproportionate to the ones that focus on pleasing men.
Of course, these articles are unproductive besides-they assume everyone’s sexual responses are the same and are articulated with heteronormative assumptions about sexual pleasure among heterosexual couples.