Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Welcome to the 1950s

1950 educational film, A Date with Your Family

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Black vs. White: Mis/representation of boy bands

here's a link to a video from the r&b group 112 that can be compared to the backstreet boys' video, "I want it that way"


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.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Media and challenges to normative gender and sexuality clips

From Wald, the Backstreet Boys, "I Want it That Way"

Blink-182, "All the Small Things"

Backstreet Boys, "Larger than Life"

From Taylor, instructional video on creating Everquest characters

From Cohan, selection of clips from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

From Frank, the first segment of the "After the Final Rose" special for the recently completed Bachelor 13. Here, bachelor Jason tells Melissa, the woman he had chosen in the final episode, that he does not want to be with her and instead wants to be with the runner-up Molly. If you must watch more (can't blame you if you do--this thing has already sucked up way too much of my day), the first part is available here and you can get to the other segments from it.

Check out John's post below for a couple of more contemporary slash examples to help illustrate the Penley article.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reading Qs for this week

In “Primetime Harem Fantasies,” Frank argues that The Bachelor “problematizes normative expectations of erotic relationship behavior” (95). Yet, I didn’t really understand how the show presents normative expectations of erotic relationship behavior to be problems in the article. Does The Bachelor regard monogamy as a problem? If so, how and why? The author implies that nonmonogamy opens up a space for feminist discourses since “sexual nonexclusivity is a crucial piece of sex radical feminist history” (98). This is understandable in that monogamy is more often understood as a patriarchal institute. If it is a problematic concept, is there any safe alternative to this sexual relation? What resulted in the cultural pattern of sexually intimate relationship from monogamy to nonmonogamy in contemporary dating culture as the author says? Also, in the show, is the relationship between the bachelor and the women participants to seek a true love as they say? Do the women look for a real love or do they compete each other for what the bachelor could provide to her when she wins (e.g., money and upgrade of her social status)? I somewhat agree with the author’s argument that “the harem fantasy contains a kernel of feminist potential” (102); yet, containing feminist debates in the show do not mean that the show serves feminist interests. Then, how can we understand The Bachelor in relation to feminism?

My personal observation of today’s media in terms of sexual representation is that there seems to be more feminized masculinity than masculinized femininity? Masculinezed femininity is often represented to be powerful in association of masculinity; yet, it is more depicted to be sexually provocative (e.g., Janet Jackson in the “Rhythm Nation” music video). In her article, Wald examines how “girlish” masculinity acts out to attract girl fans, but she leaves out the question of how “boyish” femininity acts out to attract a certain group of viewers/listeners/audiences? Is “boyish” femininity more attractive to girls than boys? If it more attracts girls, why is it like that? Also, is the girlish masculinity of the Backstreet Boys a result of market play or how is the sexual identity of the group as girlish masculinity constructed at first in terms of production?

In relation to this, Wald also talks about the role of consumption for identity construction for girl fans. She implies that consumption is an important arena that needs to be discussed in feminist politics and in fact many scholars who studies postfeminism often talks about the conflict of feminism and consumption. I, personally, see that consumption is significant in constructing one’s identity because “style” as a site of expression of one’s identity (not limited to sexuality) is the core of consumption. For example, an indie band geek would be more likely to wear what others in his/her community wear. In many cases, style becomes an indicator of one’s identity. The relationship between style, identity, and consumption is also discussed in Cohen’s article, which discusses Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Yet, Cohen critically points out that “Queer Eye defines the queerness of the Fab Five through their expertise as consumers, not through their sexual orientation” (179). How does one express one’s sexual identity without products that are obtained through consumption? To what extent, does consumption formulate one’s sexual orientation? Are the criticisms on the Fab Fives generated from homophobia or from the patriarchal fear of femininity? How does this question apply to the discussion of the Backstreet Boys?

Penley’s examination of the women’s slash fictions is especially interesting to me. She argues that the fantasy of the women slash fiction writers about the relationship between Kirk and Spock comes from their desire of equality in a romantic relationship that dominance and submission do not constitute the relationship (490). I think this is a fascinating point about the fan fiction culture, especially for women. But, how does this fantasy of the romantic relationship between Kirk and Spock in the slash fictions explain the women’s fantasy in romance novels? In Reading Romance, Radway talks about how the narrative structure with certain characteristics generates a romance and how and why it works for the women readers. Yet, the romance novels are strictly based on heterosexuality. In those kinds of novels, do we see any power relationship between the hero and the heroin to be dominant and submissive? How dose the power relation in romance novels attract the women readers and how is it different from or similar to the slash fictions? Last semester, I have read Steven Duncombe’s book called Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture for the Indie Culture seminar. During the discussion, I remember we talked about how class functions in zine culture. Mara and some other students pointed out that zines are many times made by white middle-class. However, Penley observes differently. She says that most of the fans that write k/s slash fictions are working-class and they perceive feminists to be middle-class professionals. How does class function in zine culture, especially for the zines like k/s?

Modern Slash

Back to the Future

Lord of the Rings

Friday, March 6, 2009

Reminder: Stephen Duncombe talk Fri., 3/6

Here's the info for Stephen Duncombe's talk tonight. Probably not much/any of a gender focus, but we don't get media scholars coming to campus for talks too often, so might be worth checking out.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bartky Trouble

I found Bartky to be contradicting Bulter, through she doesn't directly do that in her article. I was often frustrated with her writing and thoughts and found many of her points to be obvious. Maybe this was because I read the Butler selections first and then read Bartky but many of her examples did not feel strong enough to back up her main argument. I found most troubling is her use of the concepts male, female, masculine and feminine. She wants to "probe the effects of the imposition of such discipline on female identity and subjectivity" (64) yet still maintains that we are "born male and female".

My question from this reading is what is feminine according to Bartky? How does her examples and argument further support what entitles a female or a woman being to be in society?

I found intriguing her question, "Who then are the disciplinarians?" which makes me think how in popular culture is this question addressed? (I'm thinking along the lines of the show Heros for example).

Also, troubling is her points relating to her question, "Why aren't all women feminists?" (76). She references to this to other societies globally, which is problematic since she seems to have only a western point of view of feminism. What I mean by this, is her examples and her points do not factor in feminism in non-western contexts and she could have made this point stronger by addressing other factors which causes womens opposition. So, how can she make her argument stronger and what other factors go into how women are perceived as feminism globally? What factors may make feminism differ in other contexts?


Throughout the selections we read fro class today, Butler stresses the inseparability (and simultaneously the disconnection) between gendered identities and gendered bodies. Sex is always already gendered and cannot be seen as a prediscursive ground onto which gender is written. I am interested in her disavowal of phenomenology (Gender Trouble, 43) in terms of her project. She is careful to validate “being a gender” as not “illusory” or “artificial,” yet her analysis is not concerned “being” as much as “doing.” How can we use her insights to understand the feeling of being gendered? Where (or when) can I place my sense/feeling of being in a gendered body?

In Bodies that Matter, Butler introduces Spivak’s concept of “enabling violation” to help wrestle with the contradictory experience of using terms which are implicated in a system of power to subvert that same system. Does this concept excuse the parade of feminists in the first chapter of Gender Trouble who uncritically took up totalizing concepts “woman” and “sex” in order to defend an experience of oppression? How does one weigh what enables and what violates? Thinking pedagogically, how does one teach gender and sex without resorting to these violations of the past?

Butler’s treatment of Venus Xtravaganza’s death seems odd. After Butler’s discussion of the ability for drag performance to reify and subvert systems of power simultaneously, she seems to put aside the subversive aspect and construct Venus’s life/performance as a na├»ve mime of class and gender positions that are out of her reach. Lines like “her death thus testifies to a tragic misreading of the social map of power” and “a promise which, taken too seriously, can culminate only in disappointment and disidentification” (131) make me wonder if Butler is blaming Venus for her own murder. Is she? What crime did Venus commit to deserve such punishment? Is there another way to read this passage? How does the slippage between drag and transgender identity (both theoretically and in lived experience) contribute to Butler’s (tragic) misreading of Venus?

All the World's a Stage (or why my head is burning from Butler)

Bartky writes that at least in 1988, “the current body of fashion is taut, small-breasted, narrow-hipped, and of a slimness bordering on emaciation” (64). This is a stark contrast from what I understand to be the more full-bodied look glamorized in the 1950s and 1960s with sex icons like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Tailor and an incredible departure from classic conceptions of beauty depicted in paintings as evidenced here. What cultural and historical factors shift conceptions of beauty, and how has the feminine ideal changed throughout history (in the West), and for what purpose? In addition, why is, as Bartky argues, “femininity a ‘set up’ [which] requires such radical and extensive measures of bodily transformation that virtually every woman who gives herself to it is destined in some degree to fail?” (71). In other words, what function does creating an impossible ideal serve, knowing in fact that both genders have such an unattainable ideal that they are encouraged to pursue? Is there a connection then between ideal femininity/masculinity and the divine? If so, in what ways do our insatiable imaginations and desires for perfection and categories or perfect categories help in the construction and performance of gender?

Butler writes in “Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire,” that “the juridical structures of language and politics constitute the contemporary field of power” (8). Also, she borrows from Lacan who seems to argue that language itself, or the symbolic, which constitutes autonomy and adulthood, is a communication dominated by the Phallus, a male-dominated set of symbols and signs. How do we (everybody, but perhaps specifically feminist and/or LGBT activists, etc.) escape the prison of language then, assuming that the language is at best a co-opted one we have to constantly struggle to evolve and shift, and at worst, a constraining method of binary thoughts and delimiting categories that hinder our ability to discuss these issues? In other words, how do we co-opt a language that is arguably constructed to regulate modes of thought regarding sex, gender, sexuality, etc. without running the risk of being co-opted by it? For instance, Butler writes, “for Irigaray, the possibility of another language or signifying economy is the only chance at escaping the ‘mark’ of gender which, for the feminine, is nothing but the phallogocentric erasure of the female sex” (35).

In Subversive Bodily Acts, Butler writes, “that the gendered body is performative suggests that it has no ontological status apart from the various acts which constitute its reality” (173). Moreover, she argues, “that various acts of gender create the idea of gender, and without those acts, there would be no gender at all. Gender is, thus, a construction that regularly conceals its genesis; the tacit collective agreement to perform, produce, and sustain discrete and polar genders as cultural fictions” (178). So, can one escape gender, as it were, or rather, can one escape the performance, can one stop the “act,” or is the “act” all we have to work with, to “be?” What would a genderless world look like and can we even conceive of it with our available lexicon? Finally, since gender is only a “tacit collective agreement” and since it is so dependent on a continued performance, since it is, essentially, fluid or clay in our hands waiting to be shaped, aren’t we in the advantageous position to reshape the conceptions of gender as we see fit? Provided we are, is this only a futile victory considering it does not so much do away with the chains of gender as rattle them a little?

Continuing on this ominous, if not tenuous, platform of optimism, Butler argues in “Gender is Burning” that the drag queen performances in Paris is Burning are “not an appropriation of dominant culture in order to remain subordinated by its terms, but an appropriation that seeks to make over the terms of domination, a making over which is itself a kind of agency, a power in and as discourse, in and as performance, which repeats in order to remake – and sometimes succeeds” (137). Here Butler reiterates the agency and resistant power present in the act of performance, an act of being that simultaneously offers support and friction to hegemonic conceptions of gender. With such a powerful tool at hand, then, the tool of performance, can we assume that every performance has the same potential for subversion, or does the performer matter? Of course, if there is no gender without the performance, what is the performer without the performance? How do the men in Paris is Burning (sometimes) succeed, as Butler suggests, in remaking the “terms of domination” and what prevents that hideous modifier – sometimes ¬– from being always, or at the very least, regularly?