Thursday, April 30, 2009

Last week in Snuggie News

There was a Snuggie pub crawl in Seattle.


1. Neoliberalism and the family – Ron Becker (2006) stated that “…neoliberalism overburdens the heterosexual nuclear family both ideologically and materially”, which in turn translates into primetime television with shows such as Supernanny that promote the ideology of the nuclear family consisting of a biological male father, a biological female mother and their child(ren) all because society believes that the heterosexual family is “in crisis” (p. 183). Are same-sex families the sole cause of this alleged “threat?”
To place the blame solely on same-sex families as being the reason why heterosexual families are in jeopardy is laughable. Laughable because “…gays and lesbians are certainly convenient scapegoats,” which diverts people’s attention from the facts (Becker, p. 183). Let us take a brief journey through American history to figure out why the heterosexual family is really losing its once highly regarded societal value. During the colonial era, European-American families were dependent on there being a mother, father and multiple children in order to work the land so as to survive, thus it made sense for the majority of the families to be headed by heterosexual couples because reproduction was vital to their survival and lesbian and gay couples have no way to reproduce between themselves. Even with the institution of slavery, heterosexual families were still “necessary” because the land was passed down from generation to generation and their children, girls especially, were married off into equally wealthy if not wealthier families to preserve and increase their familial wealth. Fast forward a bit to the twentieth century and we find that suddenly the divorce rates increase drastically. Why is this? For one, there was World War I and World War II, which meant that millions of men were drafted in order to “protect and serve” their country. Logically, the same number of men that left for these wars was not the same number of men who returned home. During this time, the men that served in the First World War and were lucky enough to return home suffered from post-traumatic stress, leaving their wives feeling as if a complete stranger had returned home. The same can be said for the husbands returning home after the Second World War except that more women were asked to fill the jobs vacated by men because they were needed to fight in the war. Women gained a new sense-of-self and realized that they could do more than just keep a house and raise their children; they could be productive members of society within the workforce. So, in addition to not being able to reconnect with their husbands because of their post-traumatic stress disorder, another contributing factor to the rise in divorce rates was that people were living a lot longer than their colonial predecessors. A longer lifespan meant that that increased the amount of time people could get on each other nerves, hence higher divorce rates! Since the social stigma that once came with getting a divorce is virtually non-existent, it has become that much easier and acceptable for married couples to get a divorce as people see it as being “no big deal.” Finally, the newer generations (generations ‘Y’ and ‘Z’) no longer see the appeal to get married because there is no longer a need to do so in order to survive and the celebrities they idolize, who serve as role models, are continuously heard saying that a couple can be just as committed, if not more, than those couples who are legally married and recognized by their state of residency. In the end then, the alleged “danger” same-sex couples present to the institution of marriage takes a back seat to the issues stated above.

2. Self Responsibility – In Laurie Ouellette’s (2008) research, she chose the television show Judge Judy because it was an example of “a neoliberal technology of everyday citizenship, and shows how it attempts to shape and guide the conduct and choices of lower-income women in particular” (p. 140). In her analysis, Ouellette states that while there are other shows that pass judgment on women for poor life decisions, they are not as highly regarded as Judge Judy because the “carnivalesque” nature commonly associated with Jerry Springer is absent. The main difference between Jude Judy and lower-class talk shows is that at the end of each case, one person is found guilty while the other is vindicated of any wrong doing. How is that really all that different if one takes place in a courtroom and the other on a stage?
To say that Judge Judy is above stooping to the same tactics that Jerry Springer or The Maury Show uses is incorrect. Yes she may be an actual judge and has the authority to find someone legally right or wrong, that does not mean that her show is better than any other daytime show whose ratings rely on using people’s problems for their own self promotion. The reason that Judge Sheindlin was offered the job of hosting the show was because of her “no-nonsense attitude” and outspokenness, are those not gimmicks corporations use to exploit and profit off of? Yes. So again, does throwing a robe on someone make her show more socially valuable than Jerry Springer or The Maury Show? Not really. One could make the argument that compared to Oprah, Judge Judy becomes the show that tosses and airs guests’ dirty laundry just for the sake of public condemnation. Which brings me to my other point, whereas the previously mentioned shows are in the business of airing those stories that are more scandalous, the hosts are trying to help all parties involved make amends and avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Judge Judy scolds those who need the help of the court to solve their problems, but without those social degenerates her show and profession would not be needed. So, do you condemn the very people who are providing you with a paycheck or do you realize that while there are some people who make mistakes that others would know better than to make, that not everyone is perfect, including Judge Judy herself.
3. ‘Metrosexual’ in review – Katherine Sender’s (2006) article states that the original meaning for the term ‘metrosexual’ meant any male narcissistic consumer but today has taken on a new “more positive description of a sensitive, girl- and gay-friendly straight man…” (p. 144). Is this new definition really accurate though?
I argue that it is not. I believe that the original definition still applies to today’s metrosexual as the main principle of being a metrosexual is any man who not only takes more time in preparing his daily appearance, but in order to do so must participate as a consumer on a higher level than those men who are not metrosexuals. To say that today’s metrosexual is more “girl- and gay-friendly” is a bit presumptuous since a metrosexual can still be homophobic and a womanizer. Then again, I am thinking about the men that I know who fit this category but are African-American. Which then leads me to ask are there different conceptualizations for men of different ethnicities? I just automatically assume that whenever the subject of metrosexuality comes up, that they are talking about a white male. This is probably because whenever discussing some social aspect, we always talk about it within or in comparison to mainstream society, which is white culture. How does thinking about metrosexuality with regards to African-American men change anything, if at all? Again, I think that the original definition applies more so than the new one. Some could argue that because of slavery and the lasting affects it has had on African Americans, we are more likely to be concerned with our physical appearance, hence we are more likely to spend money on name brand clothing. So, with relation to African American men and metrosexuality, it could be said that African American men are metrosexuals because they are narcissistic consumers who are more concerned with what label is on their clothing, what type of car they drive and what type of hairstyle they are “rocking” at any given time. The newer definition cannot be applied so easily to them because African American men are presented as being extremely homophobic so they would not go out of their way to be nice to a gay male or polite when coming into contact with a gale male unintentionally (restaurant, cashier, etc.).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

American Chopper update

Sarah Palin gets American Chopper!

With Great Neoliberalism Comes Great Responsibility.

Supernanny: "I'm living clip-art"

Becker makes it clear that the 20th century saw the placement of increasing responsibility on the nuclear family to be self-sufficient while governmental services were cut. However, Becker also mentions "out-of-control children and exasperated parents" indicating the stress such responsibility likely causes. Is it possible that the marked decline in married households from 1950-2000 is a conscious backlash against the burdens of atomized parenting? Or is it more likely a symptom of an unrealistic familial ideal? For all the development of the dominance of the heteronormative, neoliberal family, does it seem so unlikely that either nanny show could incorporate a single parent family or *gasp* a two dad/two mom family into the show? What would this say about the desires of commercial culture and the flexibility of neoliberal capitalism?

Ouellette quoted Rose who wrote that people working together for a common national interest has been replaced by the "ideal of citizens seeking to fulfill and protect themselves within a variety of micro-moral domains." (141) Does this view coincide with the "I don't care what you do as long as its in your home and not in public" sentiment that is sometimes used by heteronormative folks to convey a tolerant/progressive stance toward non-heteronormative expression? If so, does this sentiment seem to be more or less prominant than the trend of legislating universal morality as in anti-gay marraige laws? What are the limitations of both of these trends?

It is peculiar that despite all the emphasis on personal responsibility, Ouellette seems to find evidence for dependence on the state by Judy's scolding of un-married cohabitants. Doesn't the emphasis on personal responsibility also seem to contradict the continued support for keeping drugs and prostitution illegal? Doesn't it seem to contradict the fairly widespread support for the proliferation of a surveillance state? (sorry, I can't find the original article) How is it that expectations for personal responsibility seem to be growing at pace with state control over private life?

In Roberts' article in the Postfeminism book, he argues that government is increasingly subject to the interests of capital. Roberts writes, "governmentality [a subset of biopower?] is driven primarily by the agendas and interests of neoliberal capitalism as much as of the state, that indeed, the state and its institutions are increasingly subject to these interests and have taken on an instrumental role in securing them." (lower on 231) my emphasis added. I think it is hard to underestimate the significance of this statement. What does democratic participation/democracy mean when government has "taken an instrumental role in securing" the interests of neoliberal capitalism? The saying "if you don't vote, you can't complain" seems saturated in the personal responsibility exhorted by neoliberalism which, at the same time, substantially restricts the range of choices offered by the democratic system. Such "blame the victim" mentality, emphasis of personal responsibility for the situation in spite of no control over the range of choices/candidates, and denial of any alternative to the situation (contemporary US democracy) all mimic some of the stages in the cycle of abuse.
Everything will be all right. You are in my hands. I am here to protect you. You have nowhere to go. You cannot survive outside the city shell. We only want to help you. This is your last chance. THX 1138

Project presentations for Thurs., 5/7

As requested, here are some guidelines for the presentation of your research projects in class on Thursday, 5/7. We have approximately 12 minutes per student. That means that you should keep the "presentation" portion to about 5 minutes. During this time, please tell us about the general topic and focus of your paper. If you have an argument worked out by this point (please try to do so!), share it, as well as some of the ways you are supporting that argument with evidence and analysis. If you would like to show us a clip or example from the material you are studying, that is fine, but please keep it very brief, no more than 1 1/2 minutes, so that you have enough time to discuss your ideas. Also please try to make sure your clip or example is loaded onto the computer or otherwise set up before class begins so that we don't have to spend a lot of time waiting for these. The balance of the 12-ish minutes will be spent on q&a and discussion. I'm sure everyone will have questions and comments on all of your great ideas. The whole thing should be relatively informal, and may even prove helpful to you as you finish up your papers. Let me know if you have other questions.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

tough love!

hey everyone,

i remember mara talking about the "tough love" show on vh1 some time ago in class, and i just saw this awesome commentary on it by sarah haskins. check it out!

my all-time favorite target women is the one called your garden. you can click the following link, and then select your garden from the list of possibilities if you want to watch it.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Neoliberalism and Post-Feminism

The Sender article suggested that Queer Eye was potentially subversive in its treatment of white heterosexual masculinity. On page 146, she says that critics of the show failed to see how Queer Eye turned the tables on heterosexual men by forcing them to “work harder, in the ways women and gay men have had to work, in order to get and keep their mate, their job, their class position.” While I take much pleasure whenever the tables can be turned on hegemonic white heterosexual men, I am continually skeptical of situations that use devalued and hence feminized situations, to poke fun at masculinity. Can forcing men to “work harder” in this way really undo what patriarchy has done to instill these ideals in women? Obviously, if you follow the money, the companies that are providing products for this type of consumption are winning, and doesn’t that mean that patriarchy is still in the winning?

It is hard to divorce the ideologies of neoliberalism and post-feminism, especially after reading the Ouellette article. She says that neoliberalism should be understood as the idea that the free market is the best mechanism to organize every detail of social interaction, and the locus of free market power lies in the individual (140). In what ways is this directly related to post-feminist ideology? Did post-feminism and neoliberalism emerge together? Both of these ideologies seem to be of particular advantage to hegemonic masculinity (what a surprise!), because both of them place responsibility for social failures squarely on the shoulders of the individual. I feel like I don’t really need to say how convenient it is for heterosexual white masculinity to have a dominant ideology that blames the downtrodden and marginalized for their plight in life.

A very tricky idea is present in the Roberts article. He says that the goal of the makeover shows, in his case What Not to Wear, is to reveal the more “authentic” self hidden underneath the poorly dressed and inadequately made-up exterior of the participants (237). This idea is problematic for so many reasons. One is because it reinforces the idea that femininity is inherently inferior, and requires constant attention and upkeep. But also because I loathe the word authentic. It’s so subjective and pretentious, and it is so often dispatched by marketers that the word has lost all meaning, if it ever had any. I’m left with the rather hollow feeling that authenticity is inseparable from consumption, at least in the eyes of the mainstream media. We know that authenticity is a mechanism of bourgeoisie class distinction, but what does it say about gender? Is this the fundamental problem of post-feminism? Or, to put it another way, has post-feminist logic managed to solidify consumptionism, sexual objectification, and heteronormativity as “authentically” feminine?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It's Raining Men and the WWF

At first, I really couldn't get into this weeks reading since I can't relate to the content as I never watched WWF (or now known as WWEF) or to sports. But then I remembered soemthing from y days of working with the resident hall student government. When I was an officer for SHAC, my adviser at the time during meetings would give the WWF belt to an officer on the board that did something special or extraordinary that previous week. We would proudly display the belt at our desk if we were awarded that week. I had no context for WWF as I never watched it, but I did understand from this context that it is something special to be awarded for a special task I accomplished that week.

Now to this weeks readings, I saw a general theme in all the articles is how heterosexual white working men in the United States have entertainment that is directed toward them in the form of meladrama.

The idea of the "crisis of masculinity" is intriguing as it introduces the idea of the response that "masculine" power has when its power is threatened due to forces within culture. Carroll discusses the point that "white injury--phantasmagratphic through it may be--is a phenomenon that attempts to recoup political, economic, and cultural authority" (264). I wonder if the show American Chopper reflects a new type of working man that has not existed in American culture before and what type of men is emerging from the political, economic and cultural forces shaping the discourse surrounding shows such as American Chopper?

The theme of money and economic power is seen in the Carroll article about American Chopper and the Friedman article about sports television and both articles about the WWF. How does economic power for the working men work out in all four of these articles and what are the implications for "white male power" in the United States? Is this similar to what we've discussed with post-feminism and how it is closely tied to consumer and mass culture in the United States? Is sport and popular culture meladrama creating a sense of buying power for men in relation to the topics the articles discuss?

Coming from a blue-collar family and my father as a plumber, I thought many of the points about males finding the place in order to engage in mass culture in acceptable space relevant. I wonder what other contexts can we find this "crisis of masculinity" in current shows and popular culture? Is this shifting with men and women roles changing rapidly in our current economic situation in the United States?

Here are some videos to add some context to the material (at least it helped me as I haven't viewed some of the shows.

Seems Appropriate

Coming off our discussion of videogames last week, I couldn't help but think of the game MadWorld when reading this week's articles. The clip below seems to encompass themes across all the authors' work. There are commentators, a stereotypic black pimp, and hyper-masculine, muscled white guy, and women as little more than sexual commodities, regardless of the small amount of agency the prostitute shows near the end of the clip. While representationally troubling, I think this reveals how this troubling form of hegemonic masculinity, protected by the guise of post-feminist irony, is systemic in gaming as a medium, in addition to other cultural entertainment forms.

MEN ...

I agree with Carroll’s general argument that American Chopper presents a version of masculinity that harkens back to before the postindustrial service economy. His article made me think about how quickly culture has transformed for male representation in the media, and the lack of valorization of traditional male roles and masculinity in programming. I have this image of my dad, when I was little, surrounded in our front driveway, with a group of other men, all gathered to look under the hood of my dad’s station wagon. Although Carroll doesn’t mention this specifically, this program also relates to nostalgia for the days when men were valued by society (and also, by women) for their ability to “work with their hands” and “fix things.” From what I recall about the era when my dad had a bunch of cars and car parts laying around our back yard for “weekend projects,” his M-F job as a Math Professor was secondary to this “real work” he did on the weekends, much to my mom’s dismay. In reading about American Chopper, this program taps into this “loss” that white, working-class men have “suffered,” by showing men who are not following prescribed notions of male attributes in the new economy, e.g. no coiffed hair, clean-cut suits or very little attempt to play into new values of the postindustrial consumer culture. The garage itself plays an important part as a cultural signpost whose era has dwindled. The show puts great value on displaying this outmoded type of masculinity, demonstrating exaggerated male attributes (guys throwing stuff and arguing). Is this show successfully creating a temporary and imaginary “home” for contemporary working-class white males to negotiate their identities within a new consumer economy?

In Rose and Friedmans’ article, they make the point that TV sports shows for men serve to embrace the male collective and provide a “vehicle for the utopic imaging” (8), reinforcing masculine ideals, all while showing the tension that masculinity undergoes within a capitalist framework. The authors argue that sports “expose the ideological contradictions of masculine identity,” (11) yet I’m most interested in their brief discussion on the “metadiscourse of sports.” The TV show is just one element of participation, whereas the experience of sports involves immersion and “the fabric” of men’s lives. In this sense, I think sports offers more to men than soaps do to women. First, soap operas present fictional characters – sports offer “real games” played by “real guys,” and men are often viewing in “real time.” For men, “chasing the dream” by vicariously involving oneself in the player’s life, salary, extracurricular activities, and stats, they are able to be more involved with the discourse with other men in the “universe.” (3) In this sense, doesn’t this discursive world offer a sense of power that can build among men, with at least a cultural solidarity that soaps don’t provide for women? Robert Allen argues that the community created is as masculine as the games themselves.

Back to the Carroll article on American Chopper, I found the description of differences in work habits between Senior and Paulie to be particularly interesting. Senior’s “old school” labor habits, e.g. “getting to work and getting the job done on time” vs. Paulie’s pondering, artistic and seemingly lazy approach to work – display a contradiction that mirrors masculine roles in flux. The “older version” of masculinity at the workplace was all about hard work and manual labor, where men worked up a sweat and got dirty, and popped open a beer at the end of the day. The new role of men has increasingly transitioned into valuing a white-collar worker, with clean hands, where labor is often “virtual” -- a few taps a Blackberry, and he’s off having a martini in a posh bar after work. In other words, physical labor is passé, and the contradictions played out between Senior and Paulie bring this tension to the forefront. Is the dominant viewing of this show to one or the other value (father/son) or it is simply reinacting the tension? --- Molly

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

1.) Carroll discusses the way ‘Old School’ manual labor is associated with the superiority of masculinity and mental labor is associated with the inferiority of femininity (274). Now, that dichotomy seems to have changed so we culturally associate the mind with masculinity and the body with femininity. How does this switch function hegemonically? When did this reversal take place? How was the association with masculinity and the body different from our current associations with the body and femininity? On another note, can you be masculine and inauthentic? Carroll discusses the biker community’s sentiment that the way the Teutuls assemble from fabricated parts instead of building a bike’s basic components makes their choppers signify leisure, feminized domesticity, and consumption (275). Do you agree that this “authentic masculinity” has been diluted by culture, leisure, and consumption?

2.) Why can men only ever achieve an emotional release, develop trust between with other men, and have intimacy with other men by displaying “homophobic disgust, and patriarchal outrage against any and all incursions beyond heterosexual dominance” (64)? Does wrestling specifically allow for the joining of melodrama and masculinity, or can this example be more generalized to other ‘masculine’ activities? Also, do you think the incorporation of romance plots within WWF narratives help balance the “homosocial desire” and reduce the risk of displaying male intimacy and dependence? Obviously, if wresters are depicted as defending/loving/marrying women- they aren’t actually homosexual. Is this the same as men’s magazines depicting scantily clad women to prove their straightness?

3.) What exactly do Battema and Sewell mean by us living in a neoconservative era?...In response to second-wave feminism and challenges to traditional patriarchy the WWF enacts depictions of hypermasculinity, and legitimizes reasons for physical violence against women. Battema and Sewell give the example of how a female manager “interferes with a match by dealing her wrestler’s opponent a blow to the crotch” (270). So women have ‘agency’ to do this, but men now have warrant for retaliation? Do you think the abandonment of “civilized masculine behavior” and “man as protector” is a response to feminism? Later, the authors talk about how power and authority are “freely and naturally available” and those who are unable/unwilling to exercise it are “deficient, deviant, and weak” and those who “exercise power should be celebrated” (281). Do you think women are included as having the ability to obtain power in the World Wrestling Federation? If power in WWF is either shown through money or strength/physicality—then it seems like the female manager’s blow to another’s crotch should be celebrated as powerful not retaliated against!! Well, maybe not.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Empire Strikes Back

In “To the White Extreme: Conquering Athletic Space, White Manhood, and Racing Virtual Reality,” Leonard argues that extreme sports games, specifically Tony Hawk Underground (skating), Amped and SSX Tricky (snowboarding) systematically erase, trivialize or caricature people of color while at the same time reducing the presence of women to mere erotic objects and sexual rewards to solidify and carve out a new space for the (mistakenly perceived) threatened white masculinity. As these games are all from the early part of the 21st century, based on the article, how do they fuel or oppose a post-racial and post-feminist popular culture? Additionally, how are civil rights and the feminist movement taken into account, if at all? Do these games fall into the categories of a post-racial/post-feminist society or are they more regressive, conjuring representations of a post 1960s/1970s era? Finally, while the other texts this week dealing with The Man Show, Talk Radio, and Lad Mags tend to “lash out at women, minorities, gays, lesbians, and the poor,” as Douglas points out in her article, the position taken in these videogames seems much more systemic and internalized. Are these representations intended to be malicious or are they merely the result of the internalization of a culture in the midst of feminist and racial negotiations?

In far less subtle ways, Johnson argues that The Man Show also emerges out of a (I would argue white) masculinity that feels under threat by the forces of feminism and political correctness. Here she explains that The Man Show successfully created a “straw woman,” of sorts, out of the modern woman who enjoys the small successes so far gleaned from the feminist movement. Utilizing protest rhetoric, The Man Show is able to position women as the tyrannical dominators, granted as they were with an excess of power after the women’s liberation movement of the 60s and 70s, and symbolically reverse the perceived power hierarchy in society through a lens of “victimization.” Can The Man Show then be described as a hybridization of feminist backlash and post-feminist recognition that feminism has done its job? What implications does thinking women have, in fact, gained too much power in a post-feminist society? In the conclusion, Johnson makes connections between The Man Show and Playboy as both exhibit signs of masculine rebellion. While Playboy might be argued to be a text that demanded for men an escape from the domestic sphere into a fantasy bachelor pad, is The Man Show asking not so much for an escape from but for a coup of the domestic space? How is this protest different?

All of these texts, to some extent, exercise the annihilation of the feminine and in some cases, the presence of women altogether. If women do appear, they are reduced to the sexual components of their body and positioned as pleasure objects for the male gaze. In “Sex, booze, and fags,” Edwards points out that this male gaze, amongst lad magazines in England, anyway, is increasingly being refocused not on woman-as-sex-object but on male-as-ideal-masculinity, a homoerotic gaze where heterosexual, and indeed violently homophobic, men end up staring at bare-chested males in advertisements for clothing and cologne. How are these ads “read” by these New Lads? Are the objectified images of women peppered through the mags enough to make up for this apparent contradiction? How can homosexuality be so violently oppressed while these New Lads hang posters of David Beckham and other male sports stars up in their houses? Finally, what fuels this defensive sexuality? Is it just a response to the sexually ambiguous New Man or is it part of another modern crisis in masculinity?

In Thornham’s article, “’It’s a Boy Thing,’” the girls she interviews admit to playing dumb when it comes to videogames for their male audience. Sara commented, “I’d clown about and mess about and pretend I couldn’t work out what to do.” However, some of these girls were quite good at the games outside of certain social contexts; they just understood they weren’t supposed to admit to this or indeed that they weren’t supposed to have those skills even in private. If as Thornham suggests, social context and gender expectations are key in understanding performance and pleasures in videogames, might these same principals apply to other activities in life? Do girls and women purposely “play dumb” or underperform in other contexts because of the gendered-nature of the activity? Conversely, do men do the same for traditionally feminine activities? What are the major implications of this finding? For instance, if one gender or the other is culturally thought to be less skilled in a given professional field, will that result in an underperformance by that gender in that field? What is the danger, then, in gendering even casual leisure activities, like videogames?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

All about the men

A link to The Man Show's page at the G4 cable channel. We'll check out some of the videos in class.

Monday, April 13, 2009

hegemonic masculinity

As someone who grew up with skateboarding and video games, I have to take issue with Leonard's work. While much of his analysis is good, Leonard skews or ignores issues that should make us all closely examine his work. Leonard's introduction, using EA Sports' multi-million unit sales as justification for extreme sports games' importance, is disingenuous because EA doesn't produce any of the titles focused on later in the article nor any extreme sports games of note. Further, Leonard's dismissal of Tony Hawks' series as exclusively white male or tokenized flies in the face of the fact that the Tony Hawk games prior to the introduction of customizable characters included pro skateboarder Elissa Steamer, (non tokenized) Thai skater Eric Koston or Brazilian Bob Burnquist, and the 45 year old Steve Caballero who was born with scoliosis. Perhaps it was their very non-tokenization that caused Leonard to completely overlook them.



That said, Leonard's main argument is that these games "construct a white masculinity through erasing people of color, commodifying inner city spaces, offering opportunities to dominate nature, [and] render females as sexual objects." (112) My question is this, can we think of any sports video games that don't do the same thing? Whether it's the pitch, court, mountain, or track, I think that the underlying premise of all sports games is to dominate the environment where the game takes place. I would also argue that the degree of the sexualization of female bodied characters in sports games occurs at pace with the hyper-masculinization of male bodied characters. If we can't think of other games that don't follow this pattern, it should be assumed that the totality of hegemonic masculinity present in sports games is a response to what sells to video game consumers. As Brian Ott wrote, "The culture of the television inudstry is patriarchal, thus the ideological critic who begins and ends with a television show (video game) as their object of study will find only the...dominant ideology." (Johnson, 168) With all our critique of capitalism and awareness that perceived profitability is the gatekeeper of production, should we really expect non-dominant depictions of masculinity in sports games? If not, how could we make our critique more systemic and materially oppositional to hegemonic masculinity in pop culture and its perceived effects?
Letting the Boys Be Boys - Susan J. Douglas
While many people like them, many others see Limbaugh, Imus, and others as "male hysterics" and don't take them seriously. Still, Limbaugh has mobilized conservative voters and has perhaps influenced policy as well. This seems to indicate that emotion, sensationalism, and outrageousness, while not taken seriously by the mainstream, can influence the limits of debate and open space for negotiation. Could being "radical" and outrageous work for non-dominant purposes? Or, is the success of Limbaugh and others directly tied to their irrationality for the sake of hegemonic masculinity? It seems that if people went on air talking about sex as a social construction and video games as reproducing traditional masculinity that they would be labeled wackos and render the limits of debate unchanged. Also, is there a reciprocal, oppositional cohesiveniess that is a byproduct of "shock jocks" polarizing rhetoric? For example, the perceived threat of Limbaugh motivating people to take up the cause with Planned Parenthood or the N.O.W. Personally, it seems as though Limbaugh et al. have a monopoly on acceptable hysterics indicating that it isn't so much the delivery (the hysterics) as the content (hegemonic masculinity, conservative values) that is the measure of inclusion or exclusion in mainstream political discourse.

In "The Sublteties of Blatant Sexism," Ann Johnson begins by drawing a distinction between blatant sexism and subtle sexism "such as popular representations of liberated but unhappy women and the overstatement of the success of women's movements" (167). While she cites many other studies on subtle sexism, I was wondering what other examples we could think of and what potential cumulative effects may be. Psychological research by reserachers who I can't remember have found that repeated viewing of idealized female body types such as in advertisements lowers the self-esteem and self-image of women who view them. Subtle, almost passive-aggressive sexism likely has such a cumulative toll on people and may be related to the prevalence of post-feminism sentiments in pop culture.

At close to twice the circulation of Rolling Stone magazine, Maxim was the 22nd highest circulating magazine in 2007. However, Maxim only sold a little over 2.5 million magazines that same year, roughly the equivalent of the number of people in US prisons in 2008. Neither Stuff, FHM, nor Loaded made the top 100. Despite the small readership relative to the US population, "Lad mags," in ways similar to Limbaugh, seem to be opening up space for the acceptance of obnoxiously heteronormative male consumers. It seems as though the saying "boys will be boys" is quite flexible and can be stretched to include the arrogant masculine hedonism portrayed by the lad mags. As feminist and queer scholars, is it our role to challenge this trend? What suggestions could we make to help steer lad mag behavior into the unacceptable range within mainstream discourse? How could feminist and queer scholars more directly shape mainstream discourse by intervening in the production and content of contemporary pop culture? (without, of course, being completely co-opted).

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Postfeminism and the sexualization of women's bodies

A few media examples for us to consider re: this particular dimension of postfeminist culture:

Wresling with Postfeminism

Sarah Projanski’s offers several reasons the word “girl” has replaced “woman” in much of contemporary media. The most compelling is that girlhood “is always in process,” reaching for adult power, but never achieving it. (45) Not to get too second-wave, but what about internalized misogyny? ? It seems that some canonical postfeminist texts like What Not to Wear exhort their subjects to put away girlhood and act (or purchase) age appropriately. What does “age appropriate” mean? What marks the end of girlhood? To whom is this transformation made available? Why do I only answer to texts that interpolate me as a girl? Where are texts that address women? Where are the texts that address women as neither girls nor cougars? What anxieties does the word “women” provoke?

I'm still confused by the differences between 3rd Wave Feminism and Postfeminism. Does anyone identify as “postfeminist?” One author seems to think that young women reject the label “feminist” based on their knowledge of the shortcomings of second-wave feminism. Yet, in my experience listen to students disidentify with feminism, most do not have a reference for feminism outside of popular media. How do we account for their disidentification?

Projansky calls for scholars to move beyond either/or and both/and thinking about the pleasures and pitfalls provided by postfeminist texts. How does the postfeminist call to individual uniqueness and consumer identity make life more livable? For whom does it make life more livable?

Reading Questions: April 9 Tasker/Negra

1.In McRobbie’s article, she makes the claim that postfeminism has undermined gains of feminism, and that feminism is now regarded as unnecessary. Have feminist gains been fully dismantled, and if so, what are the root causes of this happening? If not, what traces of feminism have lasted, and why? Granted, women have earned greater freedoms, but according to Projanksy’s findings, consumption is the new remedy for providing women with empowerment. One can see signs of this everywhere, with changing roles of women balancing it “all,” and in many cases, spending is the savior. For example, women can have gym memberships to look fit, spa treatments to feel young, nannies and dog walkers to take the load off when they’re at the office. However, have the underlying restraints on female identity been lifted? Have women’s struggles, while not identical to the original struggles of early feminists, really disappeared? If not, what are the new struggles within postfeminist culture? Is feminism “embarrassing” to younger women because it threatens their new identity and powers gained through consumption? Does this mean that class differences will take precedent for women in postfeminism?

2. Projanksy’s study of the rhetoric of “girl power” illuminates the discourses that surround media’s portrayal of the “new” realms of femininity. It seems that girls’ achievements are modeled within a heterosexual, capitalist framework that defines them with values that would originally have been placed on boys. However, the ultimate message coming through is that girls will never be as strong as boys, and although it’s okay to be a girl and enjoy these freedoms while you can – as girl becomes woman, such "freedoms" once again become limited. In other words, the essence of freedom trails away over time. Girls have “the life”; as women experience the”new empowerment” of postfeminism, they also suffer the backlash when they hit 40, and are still expected to find a husband, AND work, AND have children, AND look ten years under their age. Is this progress?

3. Banet-Weiser makes some depressingly accurate points, when she describes how the media, realizing that they have to pay attention to diversity, do so because it’s smart business. The sliding scale of color, in what she describes as “ambiguous” ethnicities, is similar to the gender issue regarding girl/woman as presented in the media. One could also argue that gays are often presented in a non-threatening manner, commoditized for palatable consumption. It's like some of these deep lines that have divided society, are being effectively rubbed off as if they were soft pencil lead . If differences of race,culture and gender can now be marketed within safe parameters, effectively whitewashing deeper issues or cultural differences, does this mean racial and gender differences will become increasingly passe, like the supposed disappearance of feminism? In other words, by consuming, does this mean we can all live together happily in “one world,” defined by the global corporations? Will those deeper issues disappear through our new roles as global consumers, as a result of globalization and the New Economy? Are these attempts at erasing differences to create a “global consumer” that can be more easily targeted? Would this be a good thing, and how would it manifest itself in terms of gender? -Molly

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Interrogating Post-Feminism

1.) “Postfeminist culture’s centralization of an affluent elite certainly entails an emphatic individualism, but this information tends to confuse self-interest with individuality and elevates consumption as a strategy for healing those dissatisfactions that might alternately be understood in terms of social ills and discontents” (2). How is this solution different than how women have been viewed as consumers in the past? Tasker and Negra also discuss how post-feminist women must remain silent about feminism and uncritical of ‘hegemony’ and ‘patriarchy’ to maintain their freedoms (3). This silence combined with post-feminism’s emphasis on the “self as a project,” individual choice, etc. isolates women from the previous mass movement goals of feminism. Does post-feminism deprive us of a collective voice in exchange for new rationales for guilt-free consumerism? Is the right to be enthusiastic about the ability to perform patriarchal stereotypes sexually worth being denounced for articulating feminist discourse?

2.) The term post-feminism itself is troubling because it implies that feminism is both taken into account, and simultaneously irrelevant. Feminism has been transformed into a form of “Gramscian” common sense by society, and is simultaneously hated not only by men, but also ironically by women. Was the mainstream co-option of feminism only a hegemonic tool to support patriarchy under a guise of empowerment and choice? What triggered this denunciation of feminism, particularly by younger women? Is individualization replacing feminism—is the allegedly declining support for a political/social movement being replaced by the capacity for individual agency?

3.) Sarah Banet-Weiser says that gender and race identities, like Flavas, can be tried on. Does post-feminist culture make race and gender differences and identities into commodities for consumption? Weiser talks about how “race as flavor” and “girl power” are identity categories that are ambiguous instead of specific, would you categorize post-feminist identity construction that way? It seems counter to the individualization and promises of uniqueness created through materialism and consumption that post-feminism is known for. Why are Flavas different? Also, does the term post-racial have the same implications as post-feminism?
Every time I examine articles about postfeminism, a question always comes to my mind: “What would be the ‘perfect’ place (e.g., utopia) for women in feminism?” Of course, the ultimate goal of feminism is achieving sexual equality, yet it is hard to imagine what women would be like and how they would be understood in the “perfect” society where sexual discriminations do not exist. In other words, what would be a “liberated woman” like? Within the accelerated capitalism, women became empowered (yes, it is a problematic term) through consumptions and postfeminism reinforces such understanding of women. However, as Tasker and Negra claim, liberation through consumption and aspiration might not empower women as women still remain unequally treated in various economic and social circumstances. (12) What would eventually liberate and empower women? Is an “empowered woman” an abstractive concept? How would you describe an “empowered woman”?

Reading a number of articles discussing postfeminim and media, especially the ones by Banet-Weiser and Springers at this time, I understood the nature of feminism: there are multiple kinds of feminist interests. As Banet-Weister writes, “the politics of feminism is quite obviously different for different generations.” (210) Similarly, feminist interests and the politics of them might be different amongst people depending on their identity categories, such as races, ethnicities, and nations. As are produced in the younger and later generations, the discourses of postfeminism are centered on youth. Acknowledging this very nature of feminism, I wonder if we can draw a common voice from these different kinds of feminist interests and situations. Is diversifying feminism possible? Could the same critiques of postfeminism or postfeminist representational culture in Western media be made in other countries? How does “context” come into play in feminism?

Angela McRobbie, one of the most influential scholars studying postfeminism and media, argues that in postfeminism “for feminism to be ‘taken into account’ it has to be understood as having already passed away.” (28) Yet, I am wondering if there is any popular media text that sees feminism to be necessarily addressed and puts forward some room for a feminist development in its text. Since postfeminism by nature is flexible, ambiguous, and ambivalent, sometimes a postfeminist media text can be understood as a feminist text. Understanding that feminism is understood, projected, and rejected in different ways among different groups of people because of their unique social and individual contexts, I question how a media text would be differently interpreted amongst various social groups. For example, how differently or similarly would “The Cosby Show” be decoded between well-educated, (upper) middle-class white and less-educated, working-class non-whites? What about the shows like “The ‘L’ Word”?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

For a refreshing interlude...

Week Nine

1.) In The Etiquette of Masculinity and Femininity, the author details how “traditional” sex roles are constructed in opposition to one another. Masculine men are powerful, dominant, aggressive, and ambitious. Feminine women are dependent, submissive, and nurturing. When gender boundaries became more fluid, these character traits were interchangeable. One way to remove uncertainty was to conform to etiquette rules; the other was for men to retreat into separate spaces. It is weird how threatened men are by “aggressive women” because after all, “women” are still “women.” The author talks repeatedly about how men retreated into separate masculine worlds and how women regained their femininity to rescue men from emasculation. How can presumed inherent characteristics exist when aggressive women “so easily” cause men to retreat? How can men find solace in their threatened gender role if it is felt solely from women acting less aggressive than they naturally are? Are our gender traits only constructed oppositionally? Can women only assume power, aggressiveness, and other socially categorized masculine traits if men concede theirs?

2.) The traditional sex role dichotomy is that men are producers and women are consumers (Breazeale 226). I have always focused on the way that women are positioned as consumers within society and generally have bought into that sentiment. However, regardless of gender, it seems like we are hailed as consumers as much as other aspects of our identity (gender, age, citizen) or that through our consumptions we are able to fully embody masculinity or femininity. Do you think that male consumption is framed as a source of power similar to the way that is framed for women? Why was consumption initially synonymous with femininity? I assume this based on the notion that men’s magazines took such care in differentiating men’s consumptions from women’s “frivolous…gullible vulnerability to consumer’s trashy faddishness” (228). Just as an extra example, in a recent issue of Details, an article advised men about what types of vases and flowers to purchases as home accents that still maintain a sense of masculinity.

3.) Why is female sexuality so inherently threatening? Elvis Presley and Beatlemania were reminders of the emerging sexuality of young girls (Ehrenreich , etc. 92). Girls were admitting sexual attraction to these figures in an era when they were ostracized for failing to remain “pure” and “good,” during the early 60s (85). How has that changed today in an era that some refer to as post-feminism? Does a double standard still exist concerning sexuality and sexual activity? Just yesterday, I read in my roommates Cosmopolitan an article called, “Revenge of the Sluts,” detailing the way that women have become empowered through their sexuality by overcoming the negative repercussions from being sexually active or promiscuous as teenagers—is this just another example of sexuality existing under a guise of post-feminist empowerment? If Beatlemania era changed the sexual possibilities open to women and girls, does our current era qualify as a similar revolution?

Week Nine Reading Questions

Beth Bailey’s “The Etiquette of Masculinity and Femininity” referred to courtship as an acknowledged charade. It implied an almost rebellious quality in conforming wholly during courtship: “One way women could employ gender etiquette to challenge men was by conforming to the etiquette absolutely. Women could become so feminine and submissive that men felt inadequate because they could not possibly be masculine enough to meet all the demands created by absolute submission” (116). Is the impossibility of fulfilling these demands the only thing that makes complete submission threatening? Does submitting completely to etiquette rules, on either person’s part, make the behavior seem natural or completely affected to the partner? The passage goes on to say that “Impeccable manners without dominance were not masculine” (117). If someone perceived the behavior of who they were courting or who they were being courted by to be completely natural or a complete charade, how could control be asserted or identity differentiated? How is the courtship affected if there is no sense that something is being controlled or a desire is being repressed?

Barbara Ehrenreich’s article “Playboy Joins the Battle of the Sexes” suggests that “through its articles, its graphics and its advertisements, Playboy presented, by the beginning of the sixties, something approaching a coherent program for the male rebellion: a critique of marriage, a strategy for liberation (reclaiming the indoors as a realm for masculine pleasure) and a utopian vision (defined by its unique commodity ensemble)” (50). How is reclaiming the indoors as a realm of masculine power a strategy for liberation –if Hefner’s thought doesn’t see it as a space that has been claimed by women, would reclaiming it be a strategy for liberation? If the “indoors” or domestic hadn’t been claimed by either gender, would a rebellion of domesticity be successful by reclaiming the indoors? Ehrenreich claims that the magazine’s message was not eroticism, but escape –“literal escape from the bondage of breadwinning” (51). She also notes that while the magazine resisted the “conventional male role,” it didn’t resist work or consumerist values, but encouraged them. How has and how do consumerist values play a part in shaping restrictive gender norms and expectations? Can a magazine, or any source of dialogue, resist any conventions without resisting consumerist and capitalist values?

I found several of this week’s readings depressing, particularly the ones on Playboy, Beatlemania, and etiquette. They all seem to suggest that committed or monogamous adult relationships can only be a source of pleasure for the one in the relationship who has the most power at a given time. The article on Beatlemania suggests that female fans found acts like Elvis and the Beatles appealing either because of their rebellious sleaziness or unthreatening androgyny –appealing to fans by carrying personas that were the opposite of what was considered at the time “appropriate” men to marry. The article on Playboy presented quotes from Hefner who believed domesticity to be a “slow death,” and a “gray miasma of conformity.” To suggest that resisting domesticity is an act of rebellion is to assume that there is no pleasure in marriage or that the pleasure is seemingly false either because it’s based on power negotiations between the couple or found in the act of conforming to a conventional expectation. What does this suggest about desire? Is all desire in a relationship self-serving or can it take more subtle forms?