Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Freedom and Personal Liberties

(In response to the discussion on liberty in class, and how women in different countries view their personal liberties.)

I have always felt that liberty has more to do with freedom of choice, than specific freedoms concerning clothing ect. If someone wants to wear a headscarf, or if they want to lay out in public in a bikini, it should be their CHOICE to do so. The freedom of it lies in their ability to choose which they would prefer and then be act to act upon that choice. I believe that the lack of liberty found in some Third world nations lies in the women’s inability to choose their apparel. Those who can choose and decide to wear the head scarves – power to you. The liberty of America can be found in the “pursuit of happiness” slogan, Americans have the freedom, regardless of gender, to do what they need to (within limits) in order to be happy and feel safe. If the headscarves make the afghan women happy and safe, then they should do what makes them happy. If they wear them out of fear of punishment or because they are legally forced to do so, then that represents a lack of liberty.

hegemonic masculinity rxn paper

Feminist theorizing must at some point identify its place in relation to hegemonic masculinity, as it is typically the same behaviors that reinforce hegemonic masculinity that subvert women. However, just as complex as feminist theory is, so too is hegemonic masculinity. The comparison of two different works on the subject reveals its complexity, as well as its social and theoretical relevance.
The documentary Tough Guise focuses on the representation of hegemonic masculinity in the media and how that leads to a slew of social problems. The news media’s lack of recognition of how violence is significantly gendered is one way in which it reinforces strong messages of masculinity. The reporting how many women were raped eludes the emphasis and consequently examination of the men who were actively committing sexual assault. In entertainment, hegemonic masculinity is represented in such a way to promote images of huge, threatening male bodies, the glamorization of weapons, and a lack of sensitivity which is depicted as weakness. By promoting these depictions in film and sports, young men especially feel encouraged to bring to life these models in order to gain respect from their peers and the community.
The essay Hegemonic Masculinity interprets masculinity in a far more complicated light. For example, the relationship between masculinity and violence is actually more intricate. Men are propelled towards violence and crime not because of instilled values of masculinity but, “through the pursuit of hegemony,” which adds more depth and insight to the concept of hegemonic masculinity. Also the relationship between the reproduction of the masculine image and actual links to power and dominance are seemingly more complex as well. Those who embody what society esteems to be masculine representations are not the same as, “those men (who are) identified by researchers as hegemonic.” Tough gang members may earn respect on the street, but they are hardly the ones in our society who control substantial power and influence. These contemplations add layers of depth that both answer and raise questions and concerns about how men are motivated and compelled to fit the mold of hegemonic masculinity.
Both works are fundamentally important to understanding and relating concepts of hegemonic masculinity to pragmatic society and feminist theorizing. While portrayals such as Tough Guise may oversimplify the masculinity, it does address possibly the most relevant social concern of masculinity which is the enormous proportion of violent crimes committed by men and potential ways in which they could be reduced. But at the same time, it is also important to critically analyze the multiple factors that go into the formation of hegemonic masculinity in the first place. Theory and social action are enriched when working complementarily of each other.

Hegemonic Masc. Throughout Life

Hegemonic masculinity is displayed throughout our lives creating subconscious ideas of how a man should behave. At the gym I was able to find an example of the hegemonic masculinity that is persistent in daily life. It was a flyer entitled “Enhancing Male Body Image” that taught men to “be assertive” when others speak about their body image. It speaks of confronting men who speak about a man’s body image negatively. An example of this is when they are called names such as “sissy” or Wimp”. The suggestion to be assertive when a man’s body is challenged is an example of how men are encouraged to defend themselves when their masculinity is challenged. One sees how action is encouraged for men when they are mocked and why there are large rates of violence in men. The standards in place create high standards for men to live up to making men go to extreme lengths to achieve the high standards.
In the movie Tough Guise the extreme act of male violence is discussed, pointing out how men utilize many methods to achieve hegemonic masculinity. It clarifies the problems that accompany our social standards that men feel pressure to follow, showing the need to end the hierarchy of gender based on high, often unattainable, characteristics. From the reading “Hegemonic Masculinity”, I drew the conclusion that within society there is hegemonic masculinity but everyone has their own idea of what it is. Hegemonic masculinity is created during a child’s development through the checking of gender that occurs and the images they are exposed to at a young age. I saw the checking of hegemonic masculinity while teaching preschool, when a boy told another boy during a game of dress up that he was unable to wear both high heels and a space pack. These words created a gender check of the situation explaining that boys who wear space packs do not wear high heels, and more importantly, that a boy who wears high heels does not play with the other boys but with the girls. Hegemonic masculinity asserts itself in most situations, instilling certain ideas in men, causing them to try to achieve hegemonic masculinity by any means necessary. Ultimately, men are looking for the validation of another man. They wish to be recognized as masculine and that they have achieved hegemonic masculinity.

Monday, May 07, 2007

hand maid's tale rxn paper

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale certainly offers insight on issues relating to women’s subjugation, but a well versed reader can not help but notice the undertones which comment on Atwood’s feminist contemporaries. It seems to serve as a premonition for any type of radical movement, especially for ones that claim to serve the interests of women, be it on the left or on the right.
By illustrating the horrors of a society that has leaned so far that it has fallen into the radical religious right, Atwood also puts into question the morality of radical feminism. Catherine McKinnon’s crusade against sexualized violence led her into a much criticized alliance with the religious right. Tactics that McKinnon and other radical feminists proposed for helping women curbed freedom of speech and expression in order to limit pornography. That combined with Offred’s feminist mother burning books, are scarily similar to the totalitarian tactics used in the Republic of Gilead, which also supposedly protect women from violence. Instead, they do this by severely restricting women’s freedoms, as well as men’s accessibility to them.
In the context of the novel the feminist approach had failed to stop the eroticism of dominance and sexual violence. The failure made room for the conservative backlash, which protected women by removing sexuality from dominance. The mechanical act of the Ceremony demonstrates how it is possible for women to be oppressed through sexuality without dominance or submission or anything sexy (though dominance and submission do still certainly exist). Atwood’s critique of McKinnon and radical feminism is not scathing; it merely shows its possible dangers as well as its wholes.
Disability is also a pervasive motif throughout the novel. In the Republic of Gilead, environment factors have caused infertility in men and women, though only women bare the consequences. Disability theory shows how not being able to conform to physical gender expectation, i.e. by not giving birth, women considered defective non-women. Thus this “disability” (even if it is the man who is disabled/infertile) causes women to lose their status as women, and thus as persons and they are consequently sent to die in the colonies. Even when pregnancy results in live birth, deformed infants known as schredders are sent away and presumably euthanized. This shows how obsolete the notion of disability is, especially when environmental factors practically make it a norm.
Patricia C. Collins’ literature also has a place in analysis. The rulers of Gilead use a complex social system of race and gender to create a hierarchy of subordination and domination for the women of Gilead – with the privileged white Wives working alongside the stigmatized possibly black Marthas, who work together to control the bodies and sexuality of the Handmaids.
Twenty years after its publication, The Handmaid’s Tale still serves as a reminder to avoid any type of totalitarian action regardless of the philosophy it backs up. It is also concerning because of the ever-growing power of the religious right, who gear their activism towards denying women reproductive freedom, as evident by the symbolic illegalization of “partial birth” abortions. Today, perhaps the greatest message we can take away from the novel is “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.”

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Is freedom relative? Analyzing FGD

In class for the past few weeks we have been discussing freedom, in its application to both Western and Third World Countries. Furthermore, we discussed how freedom is different from women based on geographical location. I find that although this may be true in some situations (such as dress), it cannot always be applied to traditions "valued" in a society. The traditional practice of female genital mutilation (FDM) comes to mind. FGM is the predominately African custom in which females (as young as 4 years old) engage in a ceremonial process that results in the removal of part, or all of the genitilia. The procedure may refer to clitoridectomy (removal of the clitoris), excision (removal of the labia minora), or infibulation (removal of the clitoris, labia minora and majora, and stitching together to form a small hole). A female is held down by older women (either the town elder, a traditional midwife or a healer) with her legs open and the incision is done with the use of broken glass, a tin lid, scissors or a razor blade, often without the use of a local anesthetic. (I apologize for the graphics, I just want to get my point across fully). Immediate complications that result from the procedure include hemorrhage, shock due to intolerable and prolonged pain, infection, tetanus and retention of urine. Later complications involve difficult and painful urination, urinary infections resulting from debris collecting, a damming up of menstrual blood and inclusion cysts. At marriage, the infibulation MUST be torn, stretched or cut open by the bridegroom, and then prevented from healing shut. This agonizingly painful procedure may take weeks or even months to complete. Giving birth is quite dangerous due to the inelasticity of her infibulation scar. An estimated 135 million females have undergone female genital mutilation in their lifetime and approximately two million girls a year are at risk of mutilation. So clearly, this is a horrible practice as it has LIFETHREATENING effects on females that have undergone the practice, so why is practiced? While all Muslims do not find the tradition to be a religious tradition specified in the Koran, Muslims of strict Islamic observance believe that a woman should be “circumcised” in order to follow the example of the faith’s prophet, Mohammed, who they believed favored sunnah circumcision (circumcision necessary to preserve tradition and honor). Many Women who are not circumsized are shunned by society and live in fear. For example, during the Muslim month of Ramadan, Muslim men do not accept food from an uncircumcised Muslim woman and she will not be allowed to pray in a mosque. There are even more extreme views, “Leaving a girl uncircumcised endangers both her and her baby. If the baby’s head touches the uncut clitoris during birth, the baby will born hydrocephalic. The milk of the mother will become poisonous."
If this practice is immoral on the basis of a universal set of ethics not traditions, How does one reconcile women rights as a universal value while recognizing culture? How and when is it just to impose one’s (Western) beliefs and system of morals upon another culture? On what grounds are diverse cultures valid?


I love this poem by Adrienne Rich, probably because its science related and reminds me of Vera Rubin (this amazing astronomer I met who discovered dark mass). Astronomy is a very discriminating field that does not easily accept women into its research and study. Anyways, this poem is about the astronomer Caroline Herschel who discovered eight comets. When she was 10 she had typhus, stunting her growth; because of her malformation her father advised her that she would never marry and would live her life as an "old maid". She never ended up marrying and was one of the first women recognized for a scientific position, she received pension from King George III, the Gold Medal of Science from the King of Prussia and numerous presitigious awards.

by Adrienne Rich

A woman in the shape of a monster
a monster in the shape of a woman
the skies are full of them

a woman ‘in the snow
among the Clocks and instruments
or measuring the ground with poles’

in her 98 years to discover
8 comets

she whom the moon ruled
like us
levitating into the night sky
riding the polished lenses

Galaxies of women, there
doing penance for impetuousness
ribs chilled
in those spaces of the mind

An eye,

‘virile, precise and absolutely certain’
from the mad webs of Uranusborg

encountering the NOVA

every impulse of light exploding

from the core
as life flies out of us

Tycho whispering at last
‘Let me not seem to have lived in vain’

What we see, we see
and seeing is changing

the light that shrivels a mountain
and leaves a man alive

Heartbeat of the pulsar
heart sweating through my body

The radio impulse
pouring in from Taurus

I am bombarded yet I stand

I have been standing all my life in the
direct path of a battery of signals
the most accurately transmitted most
untranslatable language in the universe
I am a galactic cloud so deep
so invo-luted that a light wave could take 15
years to travel through me
And has taken
I am an instrument in the shape
of a woman trying to translate pulsations
into images for the relief of the body
and the reconstruction of the mind.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Lessons through generations

One of my favorite readings this semester was Uma Narayan’s Contesting Cultures. I enjoyed it very much because of how much it related to my own life. I especially liked her discussion about mother-daughter relationships. My mother and I get along very well; she is one of the closest friends I have. However, as I grow older I can see more contradictions in the way she raised me, as Narayan described. For instance, she is very supportive of my academic pursuits. In some ways, she has made my goal to become a lawyer hers as well, through her constant support and encouragement. She wants me to learn all I can in college, allowing me to venture to D.C. and giving me my independence instead of keeping me near home. It is as Narayan claimed, “Both our mothers and our mother-cultures give us all sorts of contradictory messages, encouraging their daughters to be confident, impudent, self-assertive, and achieving, even as they attempt to instill conformity, decorum, and silence, seemingly oblivious to these contradictions.” My mother teaches me to be strong and independent.

At the same time though, she unconsciously instills the passive characteristics of Asian culture in me. By innocently telling me how she asks my father before making any major decision, she is establishing the ideas of patriarchy in my mind. I understand and take to heart all her lessons on respect for my elders, but how to balance my quiet docility with the freethinking independence I’m supposed to live by?

These questions lead me to think about how I will raise my daughter. Will I emphasize heavier on Western ideals or refer to the Eastern principles of my parents? I have been raised with a mix of two; I can only imagine that the generation after me will receive a even more diluted upbringing. I am often confused by the two forces in my life, I’m not sure which one I’m more predisposed to and how they will carry through to my adulthood. As I mentioned in class, luckily this hypothetical daughter is a long way off.

Anzaldúa & Rushin: Identities

Everyone possesses multiple identities, whether those involve one’s position in a family, work place, age group, social environment, etc. These identities can act as fluid markers depending on the context, add to the complexity of individuals, as well as present difficulties to a person when separate identities clash. When one is classified as the product of a plurality of races, the tension that often can arise from conflict of identities is tremendously augmented. Gloria Anzaldúa’s La conciencia de la mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness addresses the unique and distressing position of those with a combination of Spanish, Native American, African, and Anglo roots. She describes the uncomfortable position of both men and women labeled mestiza, and the need for a mestiza consciousness fixed upon the concept of inclusivity and acceptance. Anzaldúa addresses the need to require equal treatment from the men of same unique racial makeup, and the necessity of creating a fresh definition of masculinity within this new consciousness as well. She posits that the creation of this consciousness cannot come without an acceptance of the tensions, contradictions, and ambivalences which mark the unique identities of those like Anzaldúa, including the recognition of past and present injustices inflicted by/upon such people. “We can no longer blame you [oppressors], nor disown the white parts, the male parts, the pathological parts, the queer parts, the vulnerable parts” (386). Her work shares some paramount concepts with black feminist writers. The issue of identity multiplicity is very integral to Black Feminism, given the continuing conflict of whether to unite with men of color or predominantly white feminists in order to fight subjugation. The distinctive intersection of race and gender is considered home to many. To Anzaldúa this space is the called “Borderlands”; to Donna Kate Rushin, it is a “Bridge.” Anzaldúa’s Borderlands poem demonstrates the alienation, invisibility, and vulnerability which accompany the mestiza experience. Her assertion that survival entails “being a crossroads” certainly parallels the idea of multiple identities creating a bridge for others to tread on, as put forth in Donna Kate Rushin’s Bridge Poem. She denounces this kind of bridging of identities because she must first build a bridge to her “true self” in order to be “useful”, much in the same way that Anzaldúa recognizes the need to internally accept the plurality of identities in a mestiza. Both women shed light on the extreme pressure to explain themselves, externally and internally, and their continually contradictory and conflicting personal and cultural histories.

The Bridge Poem

Another interesting poem we discussed was the Bridge Poem by Donna Kate Rushin. I remember my initial reaction was feeling a little repelled. Her wording was very strong and I felt as if she was bragging about carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. I was especially skeptical about the excerpt

I am sick/Of having to remind you/To breathe/Before you suffocate/Your own fool self

I mentioned this to the group and we had a discussion about whether she was arrogant or rightfully proud of what she has done.

In the end my mind was changed as we concluded that she was indeed bearing a heavy burden. Her poem reflected the frustration she felt over being alone and the sole bridge. At the conclusion, she decided the most important bridge she could build is the one to her true self. If venting her anger in this poem counted as the first step, I don't see it as arrogance at all.

Lines you can't cross

Looking back at the semester, one discussion particularly stands out to me. We had just read Anzaldua's poem the Borderlands and someone had commented about the dangers of rigidity. Anzaldua's poem referred to an internal conflict within herself about her mixed identity, as well as external problems with the way people perceived her. Our group discussed the dangers of drawing too many lines between people. I believe that these categories and labels only serve to divide us further into even more little niches and cliques. Another problem is people are forced to identify with one "prime" identity- whether it be young, old, heterosexual, lesbian, white, black...these divisive lines make it difficult for people to be themselves. We are byproducts of many factors and characteristics but the groups society makes for us force us to repress all in favor of one.

Elaboration on Tough Guise

Ninety-nine percent of the time when I introduce myself as a women’s studies major, I face the same three responses.

“Uh-oh, you must REALLY hate men.”
“Oh so are you a crazy feminist?”
“Hey, where’s the men’s studies?”

The last comment, usually quipped by some guy trying to be cute and witty, actually underlines a problem that the film “Tough Guise” highlights. Though men are considered the “dominant” gender group, they are growing increasingly invisible, enabled unconsciously by our society. For instance, news headlines do not say “Man killed wife,” but rather make the woman the subject of discourse by announcing “Woman murdered by husband.”

The invisibility of men can be attributed to their majority status as it is the norm. For instance, the film listed categories such as race. My mind immediately reverted to African, Asian, Latina. Never did I think Caucasian, because they are the majority. Their actions, thoughts, and beliefs are thus considered the norm and free from observation, which becomes a great danger.

I was very struck by this phenomenon that the film brought up. I love women’s studies and have accepted that we are indeed the “minority” gender. However, I had never realized how powerful this implication was for men. Because of this, men as the majority group are allowed to slide under the radar. Thus the cheeky question actually has some validity- where is the men’s studies? Connell’s article on masculinity is a start. By examining hegemonic masculinities, we can explore a lot of what creates the typical image of a “manly man” and begin to understand the roots of many problems.

Studies such as Connell’s become even more important with the invisibility of men. We need to study men just as we study women, especially if men’s majority status allows them to slide by. For instance, “Tough Guise” often brought up the need for young boys to act tough and macho. This leads to violence, as numerous statistics show the overwhelming majority of crimes are committed by males. Connell also elaborates on this danger, citing the relationship between hegemony and force.

If men have the protective shield of invisibility, granted by their dominant status, I am in full support of a men’s studies programs. Perhaps even men don’t understand what makes them who they are. Women’s studies has certainly taught me a lot about being a woman and opened up another level of understanding to me. I believe men could benefit from the same. Traditionally, soul searching and discussions over identity has been scorned by men but perhaps this is what we need. Connell sums it up with, “The cure lies in taking a consistently relational approach to gender- not in abandoning the concepts of gender of masculinity.” An even more radical idea could be studying men and women in relevance to one another instead of separating the sphere. A better understanding of ourselves would benefit all sides.

Women vs. Women

The Handmaid’s Tale was one of the most intriguing books I’ve read in a long time. Until I came to complete this reaction paper, I had no idea that it was written even before I was born. As I read the novel, I could see so many issues prevalent to today’s society. However, now I can also see the debates over feminist theory of that time.

One of the most interesting points was the classification of women. Through these, Atwood highlights some important debate in feminism. There are the Handmaids, such as the narrator Offred. As the story progresses, we’re introduced to more Handmaids, such as Ofwarren and Ofglen, all without proper names and only considered an extension of the male they belong to. Offred describes herself as nothing but shell hiding a core. For instance, Handmaids are denied lotion as their outer appearance is meaningless; they’re only used for their fertility. This brings into question the worth of women- are we nothing but baby producing machines?

In the Republic of Gilead, women are prevented from reading and making choices. There’s a sense of women subjugating women, as the Wives hold sway over the Handmaids. For instance, Offred often mentions how Serena Joy passively emphasizes her power over her, such as barring the door and refusing her entrance until she pleases. Also, the Marthas dictate Offred’s physical wellbeing by feeding and washing her. The Aunts hold power over the Handmaids as well, reshaping them mentally. However, none of these classes of females have any liking or respect for each other. They are in a constant battle and struggle against each other, trying to keep their own heads above water.

In a way, this relates to feminist issues today. One of the problems with feminism today is the gaps in our movement. Whether they’re caused by age, social class, or race, there are many divisive factors that hold back the women’s movement. Often, it is said that women are the ones hurting their own cause. This can be seen in the Handmaid’s Tale. Though the Commander was the highest in the hierarchy, he was actually very passive. He was even kind to Offred, giving her hand lotion and spending time with her. It was actually Serena Joy and the other women who kept Offred suppressed. In this sense, it is a shame that women are actually the ones who uphold the hierarchy of oppression.

This also relates to issues dating even farther back. The lack of unity amongst females has been a prevalent issue; even Simone de Beauvoir mentioned it in The Second Sex in 1949. She concluded that the division is because “…women lack concrete means for organizing themselves into a unity which can stand face to face with the correlative unit. They have no past, no history, no religion of their own.” Classically, women have had trouble uniting and fighting as a cohesive group. Their division further hurts the movement when they become the sources of other women’s suppression.

Classifications and distribution of roles, divisions amongst the feminist movement and women hurting women has been an issue that’s been passed down through time. Unfortunately, this is not the type of inheritance we want to leave behind for our daughters. Hopefully in time, a solution will be reached and when themes such as these make their way into literature, we can rightfully call them history, and nothing more.

Excerpt of Reaction Paper on Gloria Anzaldua

Gloria Anzaldua’s poem “Borderlands,” highlights a concept of identity that is becoming more and more relevant each day as the world grows smaller. In particular, Anzaldua speaks of the difficulties that come with being a part of the intersection of multiple cultures, races, and languages. Yet, she also briefly brings up the idea of being “both woman and man, neither—a new gender.” The role of this statement in the poem is ambiguous. Through these words, does Anzaldua mean to convey how having to be “the forerunner of a new race” feels as impossible as having to be the forerunner of a new gender would be? Or, is Anzaldua saying that the border between female and male is yet another blurred line for her that makes her identity something that she has trouble with? It is quite probable that she means both, though either way her poem clearly embraces borders of all types.

Thoughts on MacKinnon

According to MacKinnon “all women live in sexual objectification the way fish live in water” (171), an idea that comes through pretty strong in the aboutface website’s criticism of “the offenders” in the ‘gallery of offenders.’ In fact, for years, I have been taught to hate the media because of the “sexual objectification” of women that is central to most advertisements. Yet, while looking through the gallery, I couldn’t help but feel that some criticisms may be a bit too harsh. There is no doubt that women are sexually objectified and much more prominent in advertisements than men, but when male models are depicted, they too, are sexually objectified. Just as most women are not as thin as most female models, most men are not as perfectly built as most male models. It is the advertisements that depict women as both sexual and childish or women as docile or incurring violence that really upset me. For example, the advertisement that depicts a woman’s legs hanging out of the trunk of a car, I find infuriating. An advertisement where a woman is simply being sexual and is thin, however, has never angered me as much. In that sense, I believe MacKinnon’s placement of all the blame on men goes a bit too far. At the same time I am very intrigued by some of her ideas. For example, the simple statement, “what is sexual is what gives a man erection,” while perhaps an over simplification, did make me wonder about whether men can actually act sexual without making a joke of it. While men’s bodies are often sexualized in advertisements, sexual actions made by men, such as male striptease, often seem to be simply comic attempts at copying what is considered sexual female acts. Her analysis of pornography as something that “shows what men want and gives it to them” also makes me wonder if there is not a type of film that ‘shows what women want and gives it to them.’ What about romance films? Are women not taught to want and believe in unrealistic images of men just as men are taught to want and believe in unrealistic images of women? I am by no means saying that ‘chick flicks’ are as dangerous as pornography. In fact, I fully support her argument that pornography normalizes violence, hate, and oppression against women. It’s just that I believe her arguments would be more valid if she at least acknowledged that sexual inequality is not simply a one sided issue.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Afghanistan Unveiled and Mohanty

Both articles of Mohanty apply well to the film Afghanistan Unveiled. Her first essay Under Western Eyes can be used to both praise and criticize the film. Mohanty preaches about the importance in not making broad generalizations for the various plights of third world women, but instead to arrive at conclusions about their struggles only after going through culturally and historically specific analysis. Although the film itself does not make the “women in the third world are…so therefore” kinds of statements that Mohanty so dreads, it does manage to show how even within the same country the circumstances which constitute women’s hardships differ drastically.
It would have been simple for the European film makers to spin the film so that al strife was due to the oppressive Taliban, and that because the Taliban had been removed by foreign troops everything was just peachy, or at least improving. Rather the film acknowledges the destructive force of the Taliban and also manages to exhibit its ripple effect on very different women, thus creating very different results. For example, the first women we encounter live in ancient Buddhist caves with their children and grandchildren, as all of the male and many of the female parents have been killed by the Taliban. As a result they have no viable means to earn a living and are destitute and malnourished. Another segment shows the troubles of a young mother, whose husband, as well as two of his male kin, was killed by an accidental bombing from American troupes while she was pregnant. These two contrasting stories create a more complex situation than “the Taliban is bad, the Taliban being gone is good.” For the first woman, though the Taliban was the source of much of her grief, its removal has yet to benefit her, and for the other it was just that, the Taliban’s removal, which caused her grief in the first place. In this way the film is successful under Mohanty’s eyes, for its specific conclusions relating to third world women.
The film is less successful when it is through the eyes of the narrator of the story, a young, beautiful, wealthy, educated woman. In this situation she seems to represent the viewpoint of the Western feminists who Mohanty so criticizes. It seems that her privileged standpoint blinds her to the real hardships that her fellow Afghani women suffer, while she blithely travels through the countryside in a jeep proudly gushing about how far women have come in Afghanistan that a woman could be a journalist and about how excited she is to ride horses. As is made evident by the film, her situation is not at all representative of progress for Afghan women, as many are still afraid of being unveiled in public and of constant threats of rape and kidnap. This aspect of the film can also be appreciated by Mohanty’s second work, Under Western Eyes Revisited, where Mohanty implores her audience to take the viewpoint of the worlds most subjugated and exploited women, because it is only from their eyes that the complex networks of oppression become visible. It is hard to conclude whether or not the film actually achieves this goal, for though it does show the hardships of the least well off, it is through the lends of the best off. Regardless, it is still a useful tool in showing the complexity of the infrastructure of a third world country, and the multifaceted factors and consequences that go into and come out of the adversity of Afghan women.

Hegemonic Masculinity

The concept of hegemonic masculinity has done much for the cause of deconstructing that which is rarely questioned. Masculinity, although the dominant gender in our current dichotomy, often remains invisible from scrutiny and challenge, paradoxically enough, because of its omnipresence. Any discussion of “gender”, according to Jackson Katz, elicits an immediate assumption that it solely involves women, never men. This phenomenon renders masculinity obscured and directs all focus on women and femininity instead of the way in which both masculinity and femininity exist relationally. It also discounts the social constructionist viewpoint which seeks to untangle common understandings of gender as necessarily attached to sex. Connell and Messerschmidt identify gender as an active process in constant need of reconstruction and enforcement. Hegemonic masculinity requires the “active struggle for dominance” (p. 832) and therefore points to the nonessential quality which defines gender. This concept allows one to reject the category of “man” as monolithic, and recognize the hierarchy of masculinities located within relations among men and women, which change given the context—historical, cultural, social or otherwise. The concept of hegemonic masculinity necessarily relies on subordinated others, either those enacting other masculinities (homosexual males, for example) or women. Connell and Messerschmidt emphasize that it is a position held by few but maintained by many, and because of this, it signifies a certain consent on behalf of the all parties involved. Masculinity, at first glance, may appear static, but once one recognizes the constant struggle on the part of men to sustain the particular dominance definitive of hegemonic masculinities, and how the qualifications change (often drastically) over time, one can clearly detect countless contradictions. The historical and cultural (re)construction of masculinity is demonstrated in the film “Tough Guise.” The representation of the gun-wielding man, the epitome of masculinity and power, has undergone tremendous alterations since the Humphrey Bogart’s of the 1940s and 50s. Jackson Katz maps the increase in size of gun and sinisterness of the pose in images of leading males in films from the 1950s-the 1980s, culminating in the enormity of the gun and muscles exhibited by the hyper-masculine characters of Rambo and the Terminator. His discussion of the influence of white Italian mafia portrayals on black rap culture and the subsequent influence on white suburban boys truly reveals the process of cultural and historical construction of masculinity and in turn de-essentializes the category itself. Both the Connell & Messerschmidt piece and “Tough Guise” portray the constant construction and reinforcement of masculinity and display the contradictions of the seemingly “inherent” nature of gender. Gender is a performance, influenced and changed by interactions with subordinates and so-called “equals”, although hegemonic masculinity rarely allows for this at all.

Monday, April 30, 2007

A Little Wollstonecraft and Friedan Comparison

The concepts of autonomy and independence, while approached in differing ways, flow incessantly through A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and the opening chapter of The Feminist Mystique. Both authors, Mary Wollstonecraft and Betty Friedan, speak with a tone of elitism and, while the points discussed warrant careful attention from the audience, both appear to locate themselves above the duped women who aim all their energies toward the pursuit of men for their happiness. However, these two influential women recognize with passion the massive weight of societal expectations and the amount of training which renders women necessarily dependent on men, although there are innumerable differences between what these women (Friedan and Wollstonecraft) deem meaningful in women’s lives.
Mary Wollstonecraft reflects that only in an autonomous state can any creature of reason and virtue find fulfillment in her life, and asserts that this must remain independent of factors of love and companionship. “…whether she be loved or neglected, her first wish should be to make herself respectable, and not to rely for all her happiness on a being subject to like infirmities with herself.” Friedan’s piece, especially her emphasis on women’s desperate search for men demonstrates this salient similarity that is present throughout these two pieces. However, for Friedan, education is not the simple answer, as Wollstonecraft envisioned its ability to facilitate autonomy of women. It seems as though the growing consumer culture of the time, coupled with the frenetic life-style led women of the 1950s and early 1960s, affected even the most educated of women who were supposedly valued as equals to their male counterparts. The need for women to have a separate identity independent on others (as a mother or wife) is addressed as Friedan relays the way many women claim to feel a void where their own distinctiveness and personality should be housed. This theme is present in Wollstonecraft’s discussion of the artificiality and transient nature of the woman who betters herself physically to impress a man while neglecting her spirit and mind, the only transcending aspect of her being. This obsession with beauty, even as women are being admitted into universities at higher numbers then ever before, still continues, although I believe it is indicative of our affluent consumer culture and is extended to both women and men. Such historical and economic changes continue to prove the elasticity of our ideas of femininity, although at the core, the desire to please men continues to be engrained.

Uma Narayan Rocks!

The reading we had titled "Contesting Cultures" was particularly great because it speaks to so many women in the U.S. and abroad who struggle with feeling "forced to give an account" of their identities. One can feel pushed and pulled in so many directions because family, friends, and strangers alike always question the identity and motives of a Third World feminist. Narayan points out that cultural context means everything in evaluating one's perspectives; it is unfair to slap labels onto people and assume, yet we all do it - even to ourselves. There are so many contradictions involved in defining oneself as Thid World feminist when one lives in Westernized nations, particularly in the U.S. where we are so priviledged that we define ourselves as "so priviledged." This makes it all too easy to look down on other women but also to be angry with them for not doing more to "free themselves." We get lost when we ask ourselves what exactly they are freeing themselves from, because the cultural nuances are more complicated and intricate than that. There are so many small things we don't think about, like the way children become attached to the smells of their homes, and how that represents another thing, which is linked in their minds to something else, and it is that something else Americans are trying to eradicate. It is all too easy for us to clumsily gloss over the details of other people's perspectives. Narayan explains this so well, and her writing is very inspiring to me.

The Handmaid's Tale Comment

While this book was obviously intended to make a feminist statement, it's debatable exactly what that statement is. I found myself horrified throughout most of the story, thinking it was a distopia comparable to Animal Farm or the human rights violations currently happening in North Korea. However, it seems as though under any kind of system, women will always have to fight for our rights. This is so disheartening.
One of my group members reminded me today that in Atwood's book Offred (or "Of Fred") must engage in the fertilization process with the Commander, but the way it is done involves Serena Joy appearing to be the one impregnated. With her skirt above her head, it appears as though Offred isn't even there; she is just the vessel, but the child would belong to Serena Joy. Perhaps Atwood was making a commentary on the sometimes vicious competition for adopting that some couples enter into. Infertility is an issue that is highly sensitive for many women and men, and I think a lot of couples would rather pretend that the birth mother never existed.

Semester Reflection

Upon reflecting on the semester's readings, I found that the bell hooks article, All About Love, resonated with me the most. I found the narrative particularly interesting and the message of the piece poignant and meaningful. Particularly reading this around Valentines Day, I found many similarities between the article and the "holiday."

Something as simple as picking out a Valentine’s Day card for someone in a bi-racial or homosexual relationship, for example, could be difficult. The faces and imagery of love are typically the majority status, a white male and female, and if you don’t fit that quota there are very few cards that deliver your message of love. If you are not involved in a Caucasian heterosexual relationship, is your message less significant, less meaningful?

Similar to Bell Hooks’ introduction of All About Love, greeting cards- like art- should pertain a universal meaning of love. Rather than categorizing messages of love by the involved participants or by the author of those messages, shouldn’t we create a universal meaning? Isn’t the love that is shared between a man and woman the same love that is shared between gay couples?

Greeting cards, like art, are the vehicles used to express love. Regardless of who the message is for or from, the message of love is consistent. In the introduction to All About Love, the author expresses her strong connection to graffiti art that declared, “The search for love continues even in the face of great odds.” She explains how she was recently dealing with a separation from her partner of fifteen years and the words lifted her spirits. She later finds out that the construction company painted over the graffiti because they learned that the “words were a reference to individuals living with HIV and that the artist may be gay.”

Messages of love can be interpreted by the viewers and applied to their own life. It shouldn’t matter what the original intent of author was or whom the message was directed to. Love is a universal concept and shouldn’t be labeled or categorized.
Valentine’s day is nothing more than a holiday invented by the greeting card companies; however, it somehow reinforces cultural norms and class systems.

Identity Intersections

Mohanty's article discusses the complications that arise from a woman's intersecting identities. Feminist anthropology has suffered a long history of inaccuracy and misunderstanding due to the misconception that all women are equal and one in the same. While important information about indigenous populations can be learned from the work of Margaret Mead, her work transposes Western symbolism and significances onto the populations she is trying to understand. By interpreting other women through a Western women’s language and belief systems, complicates the way in which women can understand each other. One realizes that women do not identify with their fellow sisters, they identify with their class, with their race, with their religion, with their geographical location. This becomes blatantly obvious when viewing the film Afghanistan Unveiled. Women bounded by the same country, the same religion, similar ethnicities and linguistics, can still be completely unable to understand each other’s complex histories. In Afghanistan Unveiled, a group of female Afghani filmmakers from Kabul who traveled around for their first time ever to see how different women lived and were affected by the Taliban regime. They expected to meet women with different stories but similarly altered lives and similarly ethnic backgrounds, however, what they found was quite different. Not only did other women not have the same amount of freedom as they did in Kabul, but different areas had different access to education, to independence, and even to basic items like shoes or proper nutrition. The Westerrn/third world dichotomy can occur within the boundaries of one nation and the intersectionality of female identities must be acknowledged. Women do not possess the category of woman at their foundations, they possess a multitude of categories, all of which shape and alter their views of the world and how they themselves are presented to the world. Very little comparisons can be drawn between the impoverished Hazara widows who live in caves and have no male companions due to the Taliban massacres and the women of Kabul who now enjoy increased access to education, basic goods, and individual thought.

Sexuality in Mackinnon

Mackinnon’s “Sexuality” discusses the difficulties of writing a truly feminist theory since our patriarchal word has left women with very little space to define them in. Audre Lorde discussed similar ideas in her article “Uses of the Erotic: Erotic Power,” women are only given the opportunity to form an identity within the confines given by men, and are only able to express their sexuality if it is for the benefit of a man. Similarly, MacKinnon examines the sexual objectification and abuse of women pervades our society. One advertisement for Bebe is particularly striking when looking at how women’s identities are only available within a male context. The advertisement pictures a highly sexualized woman crouching in an oversized birdcage as she sexily pouts at the camera. The desire to confine women and place their sexuality in the metaphorical “bird-cage” is overwhelming in this image. Furthermore, Mackinnon examines how Freud’s derepression hypothesis lists female sexuality as repressed in the male dominated world, but the solution has been the sexual revolution “freeing” women and making women as sexually aggressive as men. However, the imagery in some advertisement campaigns provides an excellent critique of how this revolution has failed. Instead of liberating and equalizing women, the sexual revolution has created a culture where rape and violence against women is not viewed as an act of crude male aggression, but as the failure of a woman to possess “equal sexual aggression,” instead providing resistance. An advertisement for Roberto Cavalli perfectly defines this moment, displaying two images of a man holding a scabbard to a highly sexualized woman while her gaze is off in the distance. This image seems to suggest a crucial moment: the woman can either return to the moment and reciprocate the man’s interest or she can be mauled by his sword or “sword”. The acceptability of violence against women is extended in several other advertisements, displaying sexualized women or female body parts in the morgue, sticking out of a car trunk, or murdered at a crime scene. What’s even more powerful is that the About Face site displays one advertisement showcasing violence against men, where a man is bound and gagged with his hands behind his back. However, the image evokes an instant uncomfortable reaction, and even the angles used to capture the image are at an awkward angle, helping to emphasize the social acceptability of violence against women juxtaposed with the unacceptable image of violence against men.

The Dreaded V-Day

Valentine’s Day, a “holiday” dedicated to Hallmark, teddy bears, boxes of chocolates, flowers, and fancy dinners has taken on tremendous meaning and significance for the majority of the population. It is the day to show your love, and more importantly, remind those around you that you are loved and they, perhaps, are not. For feminists, the holiday has become a site for resistance and debate as the significance of Valetine’s Day and the traditions commonly associated with it have been seen as yet another site of oppression for women. According to Audre Lorde, author of “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic Power,” traditions like Valentine’s Day are one of the few occasions where it is acceptable for women to express their own eroticism, although on an extremely superficial level, since women are told to oppress this inner power unless it is expressed in the service of men. In Firestone’s “The Culture of Romance,” her theories seem to similarly argue against Valentine’s Day as an institution. For Firestone, the idea of romance and wooing a woman is really just another method of oppression to prevent her from realizing the state of her condition. In this sense, Valentine’s Day can be seen as the ultimate insult to women, since it is a holiday based on showing the women in your life you care for them through romantic acts. When reflecting on this theory of romance, it begins to make quite a bit of sense: how many women have had a man show up at their door with flowers, candy, or a dinner invitation after he had crossed some line or done something unforgivable? This statement actually leads into the third theorist’s, Bell Hook’s, ideas. She argues that people have become scared and cynical about love, and in this sense, Valentine’s Day could serve almost as a “safe room,” a day where people are permitted to express their love openly without any fear of scourn or rejection. While al three theorists have different ideas, it is clear that the day of St. Valentine is one that inhabits a plethora of underlying meanings and symbols. However, the apparent question to me, which all of the theorists address in different ways, is why do we even need Valentine’s Day?

"Lola" by the Kinks

This song has been stuck in my head for a while and I think its interesting how most people don't really pay attention to the lyrics/ know what its about. After our class discussions on trans gender issues, I thought people may find it interesting to look into the lyrics a bit more:

I met her in a club down in old soho
Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry-cola C-o-l-a cola
She walked up to me and she asked me to dance
I asked her her name and in a dark brown voice she said lola
L-o-l-a lola lo-lo-lo-lo lola
Well Im not the worlds most physical guy
But when she squeezed me tight she nearly broke my spine
Oh my lola lo-lo-lo-lo lola
Well Im not dumb but I cant understand
Why she walked like a woman and talked like a man
Oh my lola lo-lo-lo-lo lola lo-lo-lo-lo lola
Well we drank champagne and danced all night
Under electric candlelight
She picked me up and sat me on her knee
And said dear boy wont you come home with me
Well Im not the worlds most passionate guy
But when I looked in her eyes well I almost fell for my lola
Lo-lo-lo-lo lola lo-lo-lo-lo lola
Lola lo-lo-lo-lo lola lo-lo-lo-lo lola
I pushed her away
I walked to the door
I fell to the floor
I got down on my knees
Then I looked at her and she at me
Well thats the way that I want it to stay
And I always want it to be that way for my lola
Lo-lo-lo-lo lola
Girls will be boys and boys will be girls
Its a mixed up muddled up shook up world except for lola
Lo-lo-lo-lo lola
Well I left home just a week before
And Id never ever kissed a woman before
But lola smiled and took me by the hand
And said dear boy Im gonna make you a man
Well Im not the worlds most masculine man
But I know what I am and Im glad Im a man
And so is lola
Lo-lo-lo-lo lola lo-lo-lo-lo lola
Lola lo-lo-lo-lo lola lo-lo-lo-lo lola

what is the third wave??

After completing the two required readings for today I remain a little confused as to the concept of third wave feminism. Astrid Henry attempts to make the concept more clear in stating that third wave feminism is much more about the individual rather than a group of women rallying together. However, this confused be because it was also mentioned in the reading that third wave feminists are more prone to addressing their movement as one of daughters rather than sisters. If I clearly understand this portion of the explanation of third wave feminism, it means that by addressing themselves as daughters they recognize the achievements of the second wave before them and show that they are a new movement.I feel although I need to read more third wave literature in order to figure out what exactly third wave feminism is. The argument because third wave feminism is more focused on the individual and therefore will become indefinable is one with which I do not agree. I think that addressing feminism on a more personal level is extremely important. The idea of banding women together does seem to be an effective mechanism for feminist education among women, but in this most seconds wave feminism it seems that much of that education has already taken place and it is not time to focus on individuals interpretation of feminism. I am not completely sure I agree with that either. I would address our generation as one of third wave feminism in that we are the daughters of the second wave and do need to being to acknowledge individuals interpretations of feminism as valid. I do understand the concern that it will become a little bit wishy-washy but I do not think that it will necessarily get in the way of the acceptance and understanding that will be facilitated by this more radial and lenient interpretation of feminism. I defiantly lean toward identifying with the third wave with my continued reading of third wave literature.

tough guise

I found the film, " Tough Guise" extremely interesting in addressing the struggle many men face in attempt to adhere to the social norms, or stereotypes of a muscular, tough, man's man. Although the article on " masculinity" presented arguments against the concept/study of such, i find that it is important to study the reasons why men act this way, and subsequently, the reasons why they treat women in such a way.I was stuck by the aggression depicted in sports and reminded of one of my mentors in high school. I find that the high school I attended, and most likely all other high schools in small town America, gender roles are exaggerated more so than they would be in the real world. The emphasis on big jock football players on steroids and skinny cheerleaders ( taking up small amounts of space, and only cheering in response to some sort of violent act committed on the football fields) is remarkable. However, an interesting way to think about masculinity arose in a a conversation I had with the male leader of a peer advocacy group in which i participated in high school. He made the point that he is so interested in male participating in sports because it provides an outlet for the aggressions that most teenage boys feel. This man is an anti violence activist and also an assistant football coach. I asked if this was contradictory since so much violence takes place on the football field. Eric said that it is natural for men, especially at this hormonal period of their lives to want to be aggressive. He said that in an organized fashion it is acceptable on the football field, and hopefully will decrease the likelihood of acting on aggressive feelings outside sports.This argument presents a contradiction in terms. Is this just another means to enforce violence into the male psyche or does it really act as a controlled outlet? As it was shown in the movie in class, men participate in most of the violent acts against both women and men. Is it a natural tendency, or just a means to appeal more tough in order to fulfill a gender role presented by society? The article on masculinity states that the flaws in masculinity lie in the fact that it only addresses men’s relations with each other and does not focus so much on the concept of gender. I agree with this statement but i do think it is important to examine the tendencies of men to be violent and what can be done to change those tendencies.

V-day assignment

It is interesting to compare the first two readings. The primary reading, The Uses of the Erotic, The Erotic as power by Lord, focuses on eroticism being frowned upon by society but as a tool of empowerment for women, if embraced and used in our every day lives. One of the secondary readings, The Culture of Romance, by Firestone, addresses that romance and eroticism actually negatively effects women and contributes to their sexploitation by men. In regards to Valentines day these two authors would have extremely different outlooks. My perception is that Lorde would say that if a woman takes in to account her feelings of intimacy and eroticism and does not merely allow for the pornographization of Valentines Day, this holiday can be legitimate. Omitting the obvious commercialization of this Hallmark/ Hershey’s promotional day if legitimate feelings are addressed, this could be a day by which to model all others. If emotion can be taken into account and appreciating of feeling between two people then this could be the focus on eroticism that would compete with our every day pornographic perception of love. Firestone suggests that the structure of romance in general contributes to the subjugation of women. Therefore I am sure that she would not be a fan of Valentines Day. Firestone addresses that when we perceive that we are involved in or witnessing romantic love we are merely victims of circumstance. She addresses that Romanic love is really just a means to reinforce the sex class system. She also touches on a rather cynical note saying that men classify women based only on sexual desire. Discussing the recognition of blonde’s, legs, breasts, etc. She even says that we have been trained in society to feel flattered if a man addresses those characteristics when he is actually sexualizing us and placing us in a group, lacking individualism, with all other women. Because of the idea of the nonexistence of romantic love, the structure of relationships, and the beauty ideal, my guess is that Firestone would not have been a large proponent of Valentines Day. It seems as though she is not willing to embrace or even admit to the fact that legitimate egalitarian relationships can exist and be celebrated. I am sure she would be even more opposed to the over sexualization of Valentines Day. In my current and cynical circumstances I should be more likely to agree with Firestone in saying that Valentines Day is demeaning for women. She would argue that its only success is promoting the sex class system and duping women into thinking their relationships are based on something more than sexual attraction. However, the idealist in me must agree with Lorde. Although I am not currently involved I do think that eroticism is an important part of life and should be embraced. It is possible that a day that embraces the love between two people could be a model for embracing love and eroticism in every day life.
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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Hegemonic Masculinity + Tough Guise

“Tough Guise” is a film which discusses the construction of masculinity, the performance of masculinity, sports in connection with masculine identity, sexualized violence amongst men and boys, along with a variety of other topics related to masculinity. Violence has a strong connection with proving masculinity and has become a gendered masculine trait. Due to this association violence in boys and men has become normalized and somewhat invisible. In the article “Gender & Society” by RW Connell and James Messerschmidt they discuss the concept of hegemonic masculinity and the issues contributing to it. One thing they emphasized was the role of the media and its representations of men, particularly images of men in sports or in war. Contact sports, particularly, are a strong symbol of masculinity which involves the most violence. “Tough Guise” offers similar theories about the construction of masculinity in connection with sports and violence. Being a real man is playing sports and demonstrating intimidation and control. If a boy or man is not physically as strong or large as some of the others they can still prove their masculinity by increasing their violence and becoming a threat, a goal of hegemonic masculinity. Violence is not only displayed on the sports field or solely between boys and men but violence is acted out upon women by men, again to prove their masculinity. This type of violence is also normalized. We see images of men subordinating women in all arenas of the media and advertisement, especially in pornography where women are often sexually abused, assaulted, and objectified. By portraying men in dominant violent roles, and women in submissive ones, deserving of the abuse, reinforces the patriarchal power structure and creates a false allowance of these behaviors. “Gender and Society” discusses hegemonic masculinity as a practice that permits men’s collective dominance over women to continue. Violence certainly helps reinforce the gender dominance. However, hegemonic masculinity is not always negative traits. It can be associated with actions such as being a good father and sustaining a sexual relationship. Yet to be a hegemonic man you have to acquire ALL the traits, good and bad, and perform them on a consistent bases which is almost impossible.


Catherine MacKinnon’s article “Sexuality” covers a variety of issues ranging from the formation of both women and men’s sexuality, sexuality as a social construct, the objectification of women, and the connection between sex and violence. MacKinnon talks about the how sexuality becomes a feminist methodology when it is treated as a social construct of male power; the sexuality of dominance and submission. If men are in the position of power then they are the ones with the ability to define women’s sexuality. Dominance becomes socially constructed to be paired with masculinity and, oppositionally, submission becomes associated with femininity. Women therefore become objects to be dominated and controlled. The pornography, entertainment, and advertising industries certainly have not helped this harmful image by the way in which they portray women. On the about-face website you can see a variety of advertisements of women. Not only is there an unattainable standard of beauty often being projected, but many of these ads place women in doll-like positions making them appear not as women but as literal objects. By transforming women’s bodies into innate things, men begin to view women as such, making violence and rape against women more justifiable. This is true in pornography as well. Women become less than human in these films, adhering to all sorts of domination and abuse. MacKinnon discusses how pornography “constructs women as things for sexual use and constructs its consumer to desperately want women, to desperately want possession and cruelty and dehumanization.” (p.167) Viewing pornography with women being degraded, humiliated, and abused and most importantly NOT resisting, men begin to believe that they are allowed to act in these manners in real life. This creates an unclear sense of reality and instead creates a false illusion of women’s sexuality. By watching women in pornographies accept submissive positions where they are objectified and violated, creates the assumption, according to MacKinnon, which I agree with, that women really want what men want from women, which is being dominated to any sort of extreme. This makes male force and violence against women in sex non-existent, which then makes sex synonymous with rape.