Oh no, say it ain’t so Dolly!

First off, sorry I’ve been missing in action lately. I was on vacation in Washington D.C., forgive me and get happy because I’m BACK! 

This morning I came upon the news story about Dolly Parton’s Dollywood informing a gay woman named Olivier Odom that in order to gain entry into the theme park she would need  to inside out her shirt, which read “marriage is so gay,”  an obviously pro-gay marriage sentiment.  The shirt was bought at Marriage is So Gay, an organization that promotes equal rights by money donate towards  lobbyists for marriage equality.

According to the Christian Post  Dollywood’s spokesperson , Pete Owens, explained that this incident was a misunderstanding and a matter of a strict dress code policy. He told the advocate that , “Thousands of times a day our front gate hosts are asked to enforce our dress code policy,” and that this instance, like the incident with Odom, don’t ” have anything to do with who the people are or what their belief system is or with anything other than the fact that we try to prevent as best as we can upon entry of the park one of our guests being offended by something someone else is wearing.” Futhermore he explained that Dollywood enforces this  strict dress code policy,  “to preserve” the family atmosphere, detailing that  “proper clothing is required including shirts and shoes (sandals or flip-flops are acceptable). Clothing with offensive words and/or pictures will not be permitted inside the park.”

I have to wonder why Dollywood decided to stand behind the decision to ask Odom to turn her shirt around? Why not admit that this was the action of one man/woman at the gate who might actually have been acting on his/her own prejudice? It seems to me that Dollywood wants it both ways – they want to imply that this was not a political action – and therefore get away with possibly keeping the good will of those who are for and against gay marriage. But the fact remains that despite the dress code spin the  incident and the PR around it seem to imply that  gay marriage can be and was interpreted as “offensive” to Dollywood’s  “family atmosphere.” 

 While I can understand why the people at Dollywood  want to avoid “offending” their “guests,” there are times when we, and by we I mean corporations like Dollywood, need to take a stand for what is right! Dollywood is perfectly happy to take the money off gay patrons on their annual gay days. Do they ask them to change their shirts then? Telling Odom to hide her politics is not only a squelching of her voice – but it is also an affirmation of her politics as offensive to some and therefore unwelcome. No one wants to see Odom attacked for her beliefs nor do we want to see people brawling in a theme park but making her hide her sentiments equates to an interpretation of her beliefs and desire for equal rights as not normal or freakish and sinful. This is unacceptable. Do the people at Dollywood let patrons wear campaign t-shirts during elections?

How about T-shirts like these:

Any one offended?

Do you think the guards at Dollywood’s gate would make patrons remove these shirts? I know – I am being a touch inflammatory because obviously I’ve never even been to Dollywood and I have no idea how they would react to the above t-shirts, but I feel like the underlying nature of this incident points out just how messed up our culture is when it comes to actively working  towards social  justice.  I feel like people would tell me that these t-shirts are jokes – that I take all this too seriously – But if you genuinely analyze the situation the above t-shirts are actually degrading towards a one group or another. Odom’s t-shirt isn’t degrading anyone. It doesn’t say anything hurtful. In fact all it really says is I support gay marriage – and if we were to consider it degrading at all, then we would have to note that the joke plays on years of  using the word “gay” as derogatory slang . This t-shirt is trying to be positive not negative. It says nothing bad or mean and while not everyone will agree with Odom’s view or desire to see gay marriage legalized that doesn’t mean she doesn’t get to feel that way and speak her mind – She is an American, isn’t she?

Boo Dollywood! Poop on you.

Can you eliminate gender from school?

Many of you entered the conversation a few months ago when I discussed a Canadian family’s choice to raise their child with no gender. This week a swedish preschool is changing their policies so as to eliminate gender from the classroom.

Does this change the conversation? Is gender the problem so therefore a genderless world would be better world -? The article in Huffington post notes that: “Some parents worry things have gone too far. An obsession with obliterating gender roles, they say, could make the children confused and ill-prepared to face the world outside kindergarten.”

What say you? Can we eliminate gender? Will it make us better? Is this just an interesting experiment?

Where oh Where are all the Men?

A few months ago  I posted the soon-to-be canonical image of the Obama cabinet watching the end of  Osama Bin Laden and the reprint of that same image minus Hillary. I know it’s old news but this week I came across The Free Williamsburg response her removal – which I thought might give you a chuckle….

Click the picture to go to Free Williamsburg

Funny, right?


Understanding a little Judith Butler…

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:

Work Cited

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.

Ellen Page – Can she tell us what a Feminist is?

Academy-award nominated actor and notorious converse sneaker wearer, Ellen Page repeatedly calls herself a feminist and speaks in an informed manner about a number of feminist issues. She’s “very much…pro-choice” (thewashingtonpost.com). Gender-based socialization makes her “wanna vomit” (complex.com), and she’s frustrated that women “get paid less than men” and that their bodies are “treated like ornaments” (uncut.com). Popular Feminist blogs, magazines, and other media outlets[1] celebrate her as a representation of Feminism, on and off the screen, and in the 2007 article, “Ellen Page, Playing ‘Honest, Whole Young Women,” journalist Neda Ulaby explained that Page  “is often approached, admiringly, about her appetite for, taking on feminist roles” (npr.com). In other words, fans and interviewers perceive and interpret Page as a feminist. With this understanding of Page as representative of feminist, I’ve come to realize that an examination of Ellen Page is necessary because looking at Page allows us to define how our society represents a feminist.

Page definitely reveals kind of a feminism, one which seems to promote female empowerment gained via an assimilation of traits associated with hegemonic masculinity: emotional stoicism, self-reliance, aggression, and violence. In contrast to the current and arguably negative representations femininity, Page is framed as the subject in images and film, rather than the object, but at the same time the images of her as subject are coded as masculine and as domineering. Begging the question is hegemonic masculinity our chosen conception of the subject? In fact, examining Ellen Page requires engaging with one of most significant questions feminists face today: If not feminine, than what?  Or rather, what does it mean to be female and to be the subject? It is my contention that Page embodies an evolving space for the female, a kind of feminist gender construction, which currently fails. Page is being coded as domineering masculinity in images and cast as females who enact the domineering traits of hegemonic masculinity because we cannot seem to conceptualize the feminine beyond object. Arguably, in terms of gender we can’t seem to create representations that go beyond the dualistic nature of the patriarchal society. In other words, in an age of socially constructed genders, we’ve come to understand that gender is not linked to sex, but we continue to gender people as either hegemonic masculinity or femininity.

In Preventing Violence, a book that looks to explain and heal the violence that plagues our society, James Gilligan explicitly links the construction of hegemonic masculinity and violence, arguing, “the purpose of violence is to force respect” (35). [See him on youtube here.] He perceives violence as resulting from the “shame” that comes with living a male existence that does not meet the culturally created standard of “masculinity,” which “in the traditional, conventional stereotypical sex-role of the patriarchy, is literally defined as involving the expectation, even the requirement of violence” (Gilligan 29, 56). In other words men act violently to prove that they are powerful, that they are men. Exaggerated masculinity not only includes violence but also the elimination of all things perceived of as feminine: “tenderness, intimacy, nurturance, passivity, dependence, forgiveness and the capacity to feel anything physical or emotional…”(63). In other words, to be a real man, the ultimate example of empowerment and agency, you must be perceived as completely bled of femininity, and so to embody the subject a feminist must avoid femininity and don the robes of masculinity.

Our current conception of the feminine, of womanhood, lacks agency and is synonymous with weakness. Gilligan explains that the cultural construct of a good woman entails different codes than being a good man does. Women are praised and revered for enacting codes of weakness. Gilligan explains, “Women…are shamed for being too active or aggressive (called bitches or unfeminine) and honored for being passive and submissive” (38).  In other words, women are praised for enacting the role of object. The feminist looks to overturn this role of woman as object, to become subject. However, the gender roles are established in such a way that Gilligan’s understanding of masculinity has come to mean subject, while object equates to femininity.

Page embodies an evolving space for the female, a kind of feminist gender construction, which fails. Page is being coded as domineering masculinity in images and cast as females who enact the domineering traits of hegemonic masculinity because the media cannot seem to conceptualize the feminine beyond object. In other words, in an age of socially constructed genders, we’ve come to understand that gender is not linked to sex, but we continue to gender people as either hegemonic masculinity or femininity. Ellen Page is a representational example of the media’s feminism, a feminism that assumes and aspires towards hegemonic masculinity, interpreting it as the normative state and the ultimate goal. While, there are elements to the assumption of masculinity that allow for female empowerment, this kind of feminism is fundamentally misguided because the assumption of hegemonic masculine traits reverses but perpetuates the violence and oppressions of the patriarchal culture.
Any of you familiar with hard candy?

[1] Page is noted as feminist by Feministing, Feminism is for Everyone and the F-word, Bust Magazine, NPR, the Washington Post and others.

P.S. So I wrote a whole paper about this – if your interested you can read it here.