I dear friend of mine turned me on to this you tube video:
I dear friend of mine turned me on to this you tube video:
So let’s be honest here – postmodern philosophers write using such dense language that I am fairly certain you need a graduate degree to dissect what they’re saying. Perhaps and undergrad in philosophy can handle the serious post-modernists, but this PhD student (that’s right, I just talked about myself in the third person) didn’t really get a handle on postmodernists until grad school. That said, I think that no matter whether you choose to agree or disagree with her, grasping Judith Butler is key to contemporary feminist thought/queer theory. In particular, I think we all need to genuinely understand her concept of performativty.
Judith Butler’s book Gender Trouble (1999) presents the idea of gender as “performative,” implying that gender is not an innate quality linked to sex but rather a series of “fabrications manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and other discursive means” (2584). Butler uses “the performance of drag” to exemplify “those aspects of gendered experience which are falsely naturalized as a unity” (2549-50). She shows how the very nature of the drag performance – the idea that both physical and mental gender codes can be enacted by any/either/all sexes – unearths gender as “parody” rather than innate bodily function (2550). In other words gender is an enactment separate from our chromosomal sex, which is learned and practiced, quite like playing the piano. Butler’s details an understanding of gender as performance and parody, so that she can underscore the idea that these performances are “repeated…with the strategic aim of maintaining gender within its binary frame,” which in turn maintains the patriarchal and heteronormative dynamic of western cultural traditions. Butler purposes that escape from this binary lockdown could possibly be achieved through the “failure to repeat, a de-formity, or a parodic repetition that exposes the effect of abiding identity as a politically tenuous construction” (2552). More simply, she is saying in order to escape the boxes imposed by culturally constructed gender norms, we have perform and repeat other gender constructions so that they might expose the nature of gender as performance.
If you are interested in Judith Butler’s ideas there was wonderful documentary about her thinking created by Arte, which you can watch on You tube. Take a look at the first installment:
Butler, Judith. “Gender Trouble.” 2001. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed.Leitch Vincent, et al. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2010. 2540-53. Print.
A friend from Miami sent me these three bits and I thought y’all might get a kick out of them as well. First up The Love Your Vagina Song:
Secondly, this nauseating ad – it negates women and ushers men into the hell of dieting and body image issues, yea!:
And finally of great interest is this NPR article that claims gender may be a thing of the past! Of course noting the pink-nailed J Crew ad and the couple who has chosen to not gender their child – but also “Andrej Pejic, an androgynous Australian model, worked both the male and female runways at the Paris fashion shows earlier this year:”All very cool stuff to see. Thank you Mr. Fitzgerald!!
So the feminist blogosphere is talking about the “plus-size” models on the cover of Italian Vogue. This year I am presenting a paper at NWSA that deal with issues I think this image is raising yet again – My paper was concered with an image in Glamour Magazine in 2009 – Perhaps you remember it:
The Glamour article entitled “Oh. Wow. These Bodies are Beautiful.” looked to prove plus-size models equal in Beauty to their super thin counterparts. The article questioned the beauty/fashion industry’s obsession with thinness and announces Glamour magazine’s pledge to start a “body confidence…revolution” (Field 241). As you can see above, the visual focus of the article was a two page photograph of seven plus-size models, naked, their eyes wooing the camera, their lips poised to part, the bodies draped and cuddled together, like lovers, lovers being watched. Like many models that have come before them, these plus-sized models are objectified, turned into the object of male-gaze.
In light of this objectification, I find myself wondering what exactly a ‘body confidence… revolution’ entails? True, it’s hard to deny the intrinsic joy in seeing somewhat bigger bodies, which could be considered Othered bodies, represented as both normal and sexual, and I enjoyed reading Glamour’s call for a ‘revolution,’ but on close inspection, these plus-sized models that Glamour was cheering about aren’t truly representative of the majority of bodies that have been Othered.
And beyond that I can’t help but note that this should not be the welcome these Othered bodies are looking for, an ushering into the realm of sexually subjugated objects? Is that what a ‘body confidence… revolution’ entails, a move from abjection to objectification?
Understanding women as objects isn’t something new or unfamiliar. Ringing in the second wave of Feminism, Simone de Beauvoir, explains the nature of women’s cultural standing. She says, “humanity is male and man defines woman not as herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being” (116). In other words, masculinity is perceived as the norm or the superior state of humanity and femininity exists as “inessential” opposition to this norm, the object against which the subject defines himself (116). Beauvoir advocates the rise of woman from object to subject by assuming the role of the masculine. In other words women would no longer be confined to the ‘feminine’ roles, such as that of wife, mother, teacher or domestic. Arguably, women have attained this status; we can be everything from astronauts to porn stars, but our position as Other remains.
Like the postmodern feminists, I link this continued objectification to the controlling influence of that which gets representation and the limitations of how we understand our socially constructed genders. Currently, women can choose any lifestyle they desire but they are predominately represented as Beauty objects, and so we perceive ourselves as such. Theorists like Bordo and Bartky provide us with the feminist understanding of Foucault’s docile bodies, bodies that inflict self-disciplinary action in response to the internalization of cultural norms, or rather the nature of human beings to respond to cultural representations or metanarratives by trying to assimilate/homogenize to the standards set by them. The female Beauty standard is such a metanarrative. The ingestion of this narrative as the prescriptive norm and the self-inflicted oppression occurring under its weight are at the center of women’s continued objectification.
 The title of the Glamour article insinuates surprise, as if no one would have guessed that the bodies that often kept from representation could be equally beautiful to the bodies we repeatedly represent.
 It is worth noting that the title plus-size is inherently prejudicial. Plus implies more than the norm, referencing the continued representation of larger models as Othered bodies.
Check out this post Healthiness is Manly. Really interesting exploration of how advertising genders everything – and then in turn we gender ourselves – even if what we’re doing is unhealthy.
5. Goddesses and Monsters by Jane Caputi6. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature by Val Plumwood7. Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins8. Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace by Sara Ruddick9. Venus in the Dark: Blackness and Beauty in Popular Culture by Janelle Hobson
10. The Unbearable Weight by Susan Bordo11. Pornland by Gail Dines 12. Guyland by Michael Kimmel13. Gender Trouble by Judith Butler14. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by Bell Hooks15. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions
by Paula Gunn Allen
So I listened to people freak out on a radio show recently about Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, regarding her tomboy status and gender bending. Salon.com has even published an article about this famous little blond:
(Not really my point but it is worth pointing out that this is the flawed logic that allows rapists to justify their actions with statements about their victims clothes and behavior. Oh and by the way, I read a worthwhile blog post by The Accidental Theologist regarding our one-sided thinking about rape anyway back to my thoughts about kids and gender).
My point about these two kids is this: STOP IT! There are so many rules about gender and kids gendering in particular that we seem to criticize people no matter which way they go. Let people be – who ever they want to be!!
So recently I have encountered two things that deal with questions of masculinity and the oppressions that men suffer a blog entry by Pris Killingly @R]Evolutionary Witticisms in 4/4 Time entitled Our Boys Are Being Failed – A Primer and an awesome masculinist blog called No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz? - which I mentioned yesterday or the day before. And after reading these things I felt that I needed to clarify my position regarding men and feminism. Or rather that a conversation about where I stand regarding questions like do men belong in the feminist movement might clarify for some of you just what kind of feminist I am and also what I actually hope for in terms of social justice.
If you read my blog regularly you’ll remember a post I made a few weeks ago about inequalities in social justice. With reference to these ideas, I have often become enraged in women’s studies and feminist classrooms when people mention “women’s spaces” – or rather events that exclude or ban the presence of men. I feel that banning or eliminating the presence of men from the feminist discussion not only repeats the oppressions of a patriarchal culture but also underscores the male/female difference – creating no room for healing this false cultural divide.
As the bloggers @ What about the Menz? and Pris Killingly make clear the constructions of masculinity have created cultural oppressions for some men in ways that are similar to the oppressions that many women have felt and feel. That said – like with all norms – the enactment of the norm for men, i.e. sterotypical masculinity results in certain privileges, and in the case of men – those privileges are extensive. BUT still what if you’re not heteronormative or white or sporty or strong or whatever… What then? - Honestly, if you are not a man’s man who can easily enact the role of masculinity , then the ridicule that comes with failing at masculinity is vast and plentiful. Apparently, there are some feminists out there that seem to feel male privilege creates a un-sealable rift between the sexes and therefore they look down of masculinist identities by arguing that men have the privileges so they can’t complain. As far as I am concerned, I don’t need to compare suffering – if you tell me your suffering, I believe you and support you desire to escape the state you interpret as oppressive. To be fair, I’m pretty well versed in terms of feminists and I don’t know any who feel 100% anti-men but I do know MANY who feel the sexes need to remain divided particularly with regard to these “women’s spaces” which allow women to “heal” from the abuses they have suffered at the hands of men. To be clear, the abuses I am discussing are of a philosophical nature. Sexual assault and/or physical abuse clearly require healing, and it is understandable why a woman/man who has suffered from this kind of abuse would want to avoid all types that represented her/his abuser. I am not talking about this. I am talking about women’s conferences and meetings and politics, which exclude men. I am talking about the complexities of oppression that come along when we truly understand how race, sex, class, religion, sexuality and other aspects of culture converge to define us in relation to an unobtainable norm – and the need to stop seeing the world as an abstract farce of oppositions.
That said, I believe that we all – every plant, animal and mineral – suffer under the construct of masculinity and the understanding of “masculinity” as the penultimate state of perfection. The element or concept associated with masculinity that makes this true is reason. Reason is currently used to justify male mastery or rather the human understanding of ourselves as the master consciousness on the planet and the enforcement of this mastery through violence of all kinds – physical, political, verbal, sexual, fiscal etc. I have formed this opinion by reading books and articles – amongst others – Val Plumwood’s Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, Micheal Kimmel’s Guyland (see point five of Popculture Smörgåsbord) and James Gilligan’s Preventing Violence.
In particular Plumwood enabled me to understand that we see the world through a dualistic framework. Culturally we formulate our understanding of the world and cultures by defining things in opposition to each other and this opposition implies a hierarchy of dominance and submission. For example, if we look at dualisms such as male/female, civilized/savage, mind (spirit)/body, culture (human reason)/nature, master/slave etc., we recognize that traditions of western philosophic thought and practice have often defined these concepts as in opposition to each other and rendered one dominate over the other: male over female; civilized over savage; mind over body; culture over nature; and master over slave. Plumwood calls the philosophical practice of constructing reality in terms of hierarchical dualisms, the “master” consciousness or the “master model,” highlighting the oppressive nature of this kind of thinking (Plumwood 3, 23).From this perspective, at the core of continued oppression of all material beings is the assumption that human reason dominates all, particularly the corporal, natural or material.
The underlying oppression of dualism is not a concept of Plumwood’s conception; it has been explained and employed by many philosophical and feminist scholars (Derrida 1981; Beauvoir 1952; Bordo 1993, Collins 2000, etc.). Plumwood recognizes the deeper theoretical construct of “privileged domain of the master,” and subsequent subjects (Plumwood 3). She explains, “much of feminist theory has detected a masculine presence in the officially gender-neutral concept of reason…it is not a masculine identity pure and simple, but the multiple, complex cultural identity of the master formed in the context of class, race, species and gender domination” (Plumwood 5). In other words, rather than recognize the world in terms of male domination and female subordination, Plumwood views dualism as the enabling force behind power and domination, which is not inherently male but rather dependant upon a deeply more complex and ecumenically political culture, which is currently dominated by the masculine.
I tell you all of this to make a point you may have heard me make before – acting out the role most often associated with masculinity – i.e. the role of mastery helps no one. It doesn’t help men or women who are suffering from the homophopic/violent tendencies of a heteronormative masculine culture; it also plays a role in how we view nature and animals and everything else. So, a feminist acting like the patriarchy by being exclusionary and ostracizing themselves from men doesn’t genuinely understand the meaning of the word equality. Nor does she understand the philosophical framework which allows us to construct oppression, and in doing so she leaves herself open to the possibility of being THE OPPRESOR!!! This is not a solution. We need to overturn our culture of perfection and mastery - WE NEED A SHIFT IN CONSCIOUSNESS.
and honestly, that shift cannot – will not happen – unless we genuinely recognize that hierarchy stinks – nothing is black and white and no one way is the best way – or rather it’s more complicated than male/female or any other false opposition you want to throw my way.
Theorizing Twilight: Essays on What’s at Stake in a Post-Vampire World includes an essay on Twilight by yours truly – Lindsey Averill for those who know me only by the handle! And this week Mcfarland Publishers released the publication date. The book is edited by Maggie Parke and Natalie Wilson. Natalie is the author of the blog Seduced by Twilight.
The description of the book reads:
Since the publication of Twilight in 2005, Stephenie Meyer’s four-book saga about the tortured relationship between human heroine Bella Swan and her vampire love Edward Cullen has become a world-wide sensation, inciting screams of delight from loyal fans, sighs of derision from detractors, and fervent pronouncements about what “Team” one is on. Those looking deeper into its pages and on screen can find intriguing subtexts about everything from gender, race, sexuality, and religion. These accessible essays examine the texts, the films, and the fandom, exploring the series’ cultural reach and impact. Aimed at both the casual fan and the careful academic, this thought-provoking collection offers one of the first thorough analyses of the saga, compelling readers to examine more deeply their own reactions to the cultural phenomenon that is Twilight.
So lately I’ve been encountering some troubling stuff. Stuff that makes me question myallegiance to the feminist tribe. (Well, sort of.) In particular I have encountered three conversations with feminists that make note of the idea of limiting the sphere in which one can truly be a feminist.
The first instance was a comment from a good friend – one I know to be an active advocate for social justice of all kinds. In fact, I would argue that I have almost never hung out with her without discussing some way in which the current social systems are hurting or inhibiting the needs and desires of honest hard-working people or animals. A few years ago she had a baby – a beautiful strong-minded little girl – and after much toss and turn – she decided that she was not going to return to work as a teacher. So now she is a stay at home mom. Her comment to me was that most of her feminist friends no longer respect her. REALLY?!! I was shocked – horrified even. This is like the best mom ever, a woman who studies and thinks out all her moves as a mom – what food her daughter should eat, what fabrics should be close to her skin, how much television is too much television – or is she better off with non at all? This woman who washes her own diapers because she’s worried about the earth and yes, she has a partner – who happens to be a man – who works day and night so that she can stay home and raise their daughter in the way she thinks is best. This is a job, and important one, is it not? It is also a job she loves and one that she feels has great meaning for her.
I’ve done some research and there are definitely women who rage against this idea. Like this one . And this one. But, I will continue to defend women who choose to stay home. Mothering is a key element of society. It is a valuable and honorable profession. Viewing childcare as a less than scenario relies on philosophical framework of importance or success that is defined by the masculine identity – in other words one of the key issues, early on for feminism was the idea that men’s lives are defined as free – potent and subject oriented.
Ringing in the second wave of Feminism by writing The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir, explained the nature of women’s cultural standing. She said, “man represents both positive and neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative.” In other words, masculinity is perceived as the norm or the superior state of humanity and femininity exists as “inessential” opposition to this norm. Beauvoir’s theory on implementing male/female equality was grounded in the understanding of womanhood as a limiting state. Beauvoir advocated the rise of a woman from subordinate to dominate by becoming more like a man, i.e. disconnecting from her connection to ‘her own nature,’ her physicality, particularly her womb and the job of child rearing. Later feminists recognized a fundamental flaw in Beauvoir’s perspective. In “Humanism, Gynocentrism, and Feminist Politics,” Iris Young explains, “Beauvoir does not call into question the definition of being human that traditional western society holds, and she devalues traditionally female activity in the same way that the patriarchy does.” In other words, Beauvior’s perspective equates the true state of humanity with masculinity. In light of this understanding, it is my contention, that femininity is not the problem, rather inequality is caused by the “the denial and devaluation of specifically feminine virtues” (Young). The road to compassionate equality does not require that women become more like men, but rather that we cease to devalue and define femininity and masculinity as constructs in opposition, with hegemonic masculinity functioning as the superior form and femininity an inferior reflection. This idea can be explored further in the works of Val Plumwood.
I am off on a tangent from where I began…So let me just circle round a bit. While I’ve focused on this discussion of stay at home mom’s, I mentioned that there were three conversations that threw me for a loop. The second conversation occurred with Gail Dines and some of the current key players in FAU’s Women, Gender and Sexuality department at the Florida Consortium for Women’s Studies Conference. The topic of the actual discussion eludes me by the basic premise was a number of female feminists met to discuss pornography and anti-porn strategies and the told a transgender feminist that her attendance was not appreciated. Ouch…REALLY! Isn’t the ultimate goal empowering and accepting each other as we are and want to be?
My final issue was a conversation with friends about sexuality – one friend, who is in a long-term relationship with a man but used to date only women – mentioned that when she started dating a man all her lesbian friends disowned her. REALLY! – I can’t really say that the women who disowned her are feminists, but I can say that they bear the burdens of unequal social justice issues – wouldn’t they want to let people be and choose whatever makes them happy? Obviously not.
What is that?
I am a proponent of the morality detailed by the principles of feminist care ethics, i.e. acknowledging and examining how one’s personal background, experience and viewpoint affect one’s moral choices, focusing on responses that are person and situation specific, and creating solutions that focus on care and empathy for others. If you are interested in these ideas read Maternal Thinking: Toword a Politics of Peace by Sara Ruddick. I guess my point here is that in the end, the ultimate goal, breaking down abstract prejudice and oppression is the only goal – and these behaviors – judgement and criticism of the choices people make – these are the behaviors of the oppressor.