Wednesday, May 09, 2007
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.
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 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
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
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?
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
she whom the moon ruled
levitating into the night sky
riding the polished lenses
Galaxies of women, there
doing penance for impetuousness
in those spaces of the mind
‘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
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
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.