Thursday, March 12, 2009

media and challenges to normative gender and sexuality

1. In a book written by Katherine Frank (2007) entitled, “Primetime Harem Fantasies…,” she analyzes the ways in which viewers of the hit television show, The Bachelor, read the show. Frank chose to depart from the more common ways of reading such shows and texts (gender mis/representations and the intricacies of how gendered roles are performed on the show or within a text) by looking at how women view and then internalize their thoughts on heterosexual relationships via their thought process and actions (p. 94-95). One specific passage in Frank’s article was where she said
Yet although many people recognize the difficulty of following these prior sexual experiences with lifelong monogamous relationships, serial monogamy has been the primary (though not the only) means of reconciling these challenges. When on e relationship fails, another takes its place – and when passion flees, so too do many bored spouses. People tend to mistake these trends as personal anomalies, however, rather than seeing them as significant cultural patterns in the evolving form of sexual and emotional intimacy (p. 100).

The above quote made me ask, are human beings “programmed” to be monogamous naturally? Just like the on-going debate on whether people are born homosexual or choose to be homosexual, the discussion on human behavior, specifically human attraction, has also had a hard time reaching a conclusive conclusion. It has been shown that in other mammals, birds for instance, that it is normal for them to select a partner and remain with that some partner until death. There are other studies however, that show that selecting a mate does not mean that they are life partners. What about human beings though?
This question delves deeper than asking if human beings can be attracted to more than one person at the same time, as this is a mutually agreed upon fact. What then stops the majority of us from pursuing multiple relationships at the same time? In some cultures, Hmong for example, this is an accepted practice where a man can have more than one wife. The arrangement of those types of situations are usually the result of a man being able to financially support more than one wife, which then also takes on a status symbol. Why is it that this is practiced and accepted in some cultures and not all? Where did this notion of “loving one person and one person only” come from? Is it because being in a relationship with just one person is enough work (mentally, financially and physically) and thus adding another person would further complicate things as evidenced on shows such as “The Bachelor?”
Looking at the stereotypical gendered behavior of human beings, women are thought to be more emotionally available than men. If this is true, would it not make sense for women then to be involved in multiple relationships at the same time based off of that rationale alone? Or does it have nothing to do with emotions at all? Can it be just about physicality? If it is, that is looked down on more in our society than being in at least two relationships at the same time because the latter is assumed to have its “wrongs” corrected by the fact that actual feelings are involved. Whereas the former type of relationships are viewed as being wrong because of their “animalistic nature.”
2. In chapter 26 of Constance Penley’s (1992) book, she looks at how the role of feminism and psychoanalysis can be applied to studying popular culture, specifically “slash fandom” (p. 479). Popular texts and television shows are revamped by the fans of those texts and televisions shows, which often include the increased presence of erotica. One such popular slash fandom is Star Trek and often times involve a blatantly or subtly homoerotic relationship between Captain Kirk and Spock. One specific question Penley (1992) raised after her first encounter with this type of media was “…is K/S romance or pornography” (p. 484)? That question led me to ask myself, what makes any text or media pornographic?
When performing my own research for my thesis project, I found myself asking that very same question over and over. What makes a movie that contains sexual encounters pornographic? Is it the type of sex depicted or the frequency with which the sexual encounters occur? Or does it have nothing to do with either of those two factors and more to do with what is shown as far as body parts? Asking these questions however lead me back to the constantly asked question, who/what defines porn?
In America, that which was considered pornographic was anything that was deemed “obscene and offensive” to adults, but especially children. The problem with that definition was that it was too simplistic. That could effect any and everything in existence, as it did as evidenced by the confiscation of biology text books in the early twentieth century because they showed the human body in the naked form. Overtime, those sorts of images were allowed to be put back into biology text books but on a more “G-rated” scale (bodies without hair). Another problem with that definition was that what offends one person may not offend the person next to them, as evidenced with the pornographic debates starting in the 1960s. For example, Michelangelo’s statue David is viewed as being artistic whereas a man striking the same pose in Playgirl Magazine is considered pornographic. If those two images were placed side by side without any sort of caption explaining where each one was from, would people still find the Playgirl photograph pornographic?
Theodore Gracyk (1987) took issue with how pornography has been attacked by anti-pornography feminists and the U.S. government because of their preference for focusing on the conceptualization of pornography rather than on “the pornographic attitude,” which he states “is the real locus of the defamation argument against pornography. I do not assume that all material that is commonly classified as pornographic manifests the pornographic attitude” (p. 104). Focusing on the definition of pornography rather than the pornographic attitude has caused more things to be considered sexually explicit and graphic when they may in all actuality not be. Gracyk stresses the importance of looking at things contextually in order to see if they are indeed pornographic. The trick then is to place sexuality into context, which is hard to do because different people have different views when it comes to sexuality. As have been evidenced already, it is not sufficient enough for one person or a group of people to determine something to be bad for society because they take personal offense to it. “Doing so makes no more sense than following an engineering blueprint by majority vote when most of those voting are not very good at reading blueprints” (Gracyk, 1987, p. 116).
3. Chapter four of T.L. Taylor’s book examines how and why women are attracted to the online game culture. Taylor (2006) notes that “the issue of how virtual-world experiences ‘filter back’ is particularly striking, though, when women report that playing the game helped them become more confident or assertive” (p. 97). The women reported that one of the things that attracts them to online gaming is that they have the option of not only picking a female character to represent them, but they are choosing assertive female characters that are unafraid to “stomp with the big dogs” and slay a few bad guys. Taylor (2006) goes on to say that “while gender swapping is also certainly something that occurs in EQ, one of the more interesting aspects to consider is the way the game may allow access to gender identities that often are socially prohibited or delegitimized offline…” (p. 97). My question however is does this new found sense of female assertiveness long-term or short-term? Meaning, do these women carry the attributes of the characters into the non-gaming (real) world?
I did not get the sense that this was the case for these women. Rather, it seemed as if this was only a temporary space in which girls and women were able to step outside of their socially expected gender roles and that once they were done playing the game, they resumed their non-gaming persona. Speaking from personal experience, I like to play role-playing games (rpg), which usually consists of male lead characters so I am unable to speak on the attraction or thought process for choosing a character to represent you in a game. I am however able to speak on the attraction and thought process for choosing a female character in video games that are based on combative fighting skills, my favorite being Tekken.
I will admit that I when I do pick one of the Tekken characters that I choose them based off of their physical appearance. For instance, I first base my selection off of female characters that I either find to be pretty and/or whose outfit is not too “slutty” as that just does not make any sense whatsoever in a game that requires the characters to fight one another. Next, I look for any weapons or special moves that they might have or be able to perform because after all, this is a game and I do want to win. After selecting my character, I use my “secret” technique which consists of pushing all of the buttons at one time to make my character beat up my opponent. Unlike the women Taylor talks about, I do not put myself in the place of those female characters as being an extension of me or an “upgraded” version of me but then again, I am and have been told that I am not your “typical” girl as I have a “male mentality” having grown up and hung around guys most of my life. For the times that I choose a male character, I also base it off of their looks and outfit but am not worried about if their outfit makes sense with the type of game that I am playing. I believe that those are the moments when I want to put myself into that “male space” and feel tough enough to take on the biggest and “baddest” bad guys the game chooses to throw at me.

No comments:

Post a Comment