Throughout the run of this course we have touched on a multitude of concepts discussing sexuality and gender across the national and global communities. As we’ve discussed topic after topic, I’ve found that there is one key topic that I find ties all of the concepts together. They are all tied together through the policing of sexual and gender related norms. Across all lines of culture and community, sexuality is policed by a set of norms that often are enforced by moral discourse. This affects all aspects of sexuality, morality dictates what society holds as “normal” when it comes to the gender of one’s chosen partner, how many partners one has, where one chooses to be sexual, what age one chooses to become sexual, and even what sexual practices are considered sexual.
Slam Poetry has the unique ability to get a point across without holding anything back, while also being entertaining to the ears. In “Girl Code 101”, Blythe Baird accomplishes both aspects of slam poetry. She begins by describing actions some of us may have seen, girls and women using their looks, their bodies, their gestures to get things or get out of doing other things (such as the mile in gym class). These actions are often described in negative connotations, yet Baird suggests these actions are calculated acts for survival. She suggests these acts of survival come out of years of being told we are not good enough for academics or sports, from years of our looks being commented on by anyone who wants to, from years of being made to feel less worthy. These years of being put down lead to an acceptance that this is the way, the only way, for women and girls to survive in this world. Our feminine behaviors are drilled into us out of fear and years of being told we are lesser. Baird claims that femininity is act taught to girls by the society we live in. Baird goes on to call out for female role models known for more than just their body and ability to have a child, role models that will teach women and girls to stand up for themselves and their worth instead of getting by on their looks and politeness as females are often guided into doing.
Baird’s ideas fall right in line with sociology’s perspective on sexuality. Sociologists suggest that sexuality is not inborn, but that it is a product of society. This idea of social constructivism of sexuality applies to gendered behavior as well. Based on our biological sex society expects us to act certain ways, and trains these behaviors into us as early as possible. Whether this entails giving young girls Barbie dolls and young boys trucks or teaching young girls to be polite while expecting boys to “be boys” through aggressive behavior, the lessons of our youth stick. Barbie dolls teach us that girls wear dresses and skirts, girls are taught to be polite to a point that often makes them timid women. The Barbies and Polly Pockets given to young girls teach them that looks, beauty, and being a size 0 are what will get you far in life. Females are influenced by what is shown to them as the “proper” way to behave, and this creates a socially constructed idea of the female character. When talking about this I am always reminded of a scene in Huckleberry Finn, in which Huck dresses up and acts as a girl in attempt to avoid being found. Huck meets many people, but the only person who realizes his ruse is an older woman. While it may not be explicitly stated, it is obvious through Twain’s description why it was only a female who could tell that Huck was not a female. As females, even more so in that time period, we are trained to act feminine in such a precise way that leaves males oblivious to the act, so that no male could identify Huck as they had never experienced the training to behave as a woman.
While it is true that in our current time period there are many female role models who defy these conventional images of femininity, these women are often beaten down and told (very publicly) that they are lesser women because of their refusal to fit gender stereotypes. Women and young girls may also grow to believe that they need to fit accent aspects of their gender (such as their body) in order to get ahead in positions dominated by males. On my high school debate team, the other girls on my team and I were well aware of the disadvantage we were at simply due to our gender. Studies have shown that those who are taller, those who have deeper voices, those who are male are believed to be smarter and have their opinions given more attention just from these factors. We were well aware of these studies, we knew we’d be given less attention because of our gender. We also knew that there were ways to make people look at us, and hopefully hear us. This led many girls, especially the more inexperienced debaters, to intentionally dress in shorter skirts and more revealing tops in attempts to gain favor with the judges (other high school students). We were told, by scientific studies and the world around us, that females are noted for their physical appearance and not their brains. And at times, we allowed ourselves to believe that this was accurate and play into the stereotypes and act the part of the polite, only valued for appearance female.
Gender stereotypes follow us wherever we go. Both males and females have socially constructed stereotypes they are expected to follow, but tackling the issues caused by both stereotypes would take more than one post. How have you seen these stereotypes follow you throughout your lifetime? Are there any particular incidents you can think of in which gender stereotypes were taught to you, whether directly or indirectly?
The butt is a new focal point of sexual attention. In his article, Anal sex, Simon Hardy touches upon this new (or at least newly allowed to be discussed) form of sexual activity. Many factors made the action of anal sex more acceptable and prevalent. Anal sex cannot get you pregnant, making it a viable option for contraception if two people want to take part in sexual activity without having to deal with the consequences of having a child or using some sort of post-coital contraceptive. It also has an increased benefit as a variation from the typical routine of “normal” sex, which is defined as oral sex and coitus; anal sex is similar enough that it is a viable variation from the norm. These two factors and others have resulted in anal sex leaving the realm of a purely pornographic act, to an act commonly described in popular media and songs. This doesn’t mean there aren’t negative conceptions of anal sex out there, in many circles it is still seen as a perversion or a health risk. Continue reading
Eckerd College is a private college of the liberal arts and sciences. The college currently has 1,850 students on its 188 acres along the water. Around 40% of Eckerd’s students pursue advanced degrees, and it is one of the nation’s leaders in the percentage of graduates that earn doctoral degrees. As of 2012 the school was even listed as one of forty colleges that change lives according to Loren Pope’s well-regarded guide. Doesn’t that all sound pretty ideal? Who wouldn’t like a fairly well-regarded school, with beach access, and a high-likelihood of earning a more advanced degree in the future? Eckerd’s President Donald Eastman III shattered Eckerd’s idyllic image on Monday, when he sent an email out to the student body briefly explaining the college’s new sexual assault education and awareness program and more extensively asking the students to do their part towards ending sexual assaults on campus. Actually, that still doesn’t sound too bad. Education and awareness are necessary steps towards ending rape culture and sexual violence on college campuses, and student involvement is a necessity as the administration can only do so much. So why did I say that Eastman shattered the image of a fairly idyllic sounding college? To understand that, we need to look at how he suggested students assist the administration in their goal of ending sexual assault on campus. President Eastman gave his students two ways he believed they can help end sexual assault on campus, drink less alcohol and refrain from casual sex. Continue reading
Joss Whedon is a well-known writer and director of TV shows and movies such as Toy Story, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Dollhouse, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Notably, in many of his shows one can find a strong female leading character. This is a clear divergent from the typical portrayal of women in popular media and culture, and because of that Whedon is often asked why he chooses to portray such strong female characters. In the video above, Whedon gives some answers as to why he chooses to portray such strong female characters in his works. These answers have a great range of meaning, as he thought his answer over with each time the question was asked. At the beginning he gives credit to his mother for showing him the strength of a powerful woman. Next he gives credit to his father and his stepfather for teaching him to prize strong women and understanding that “recognizing someone else’s power doesn’t diminish your own”. Eventually Whedon answers with a question of his own, asking reporters why they are asking him this instead of asking the hundreds of other writers why they do not write strong women characters. His next answer is simply that equality is something we need, and we need it now, and the characters we watch are examples that lead to greater change. Finally, he ends by answering simply “because you’re still asking me that question”. Within this short speech, no longer than eight minutes, Whedon touches upon more than just the inspiration for strong women characters, he also addresses so many different aspects of why strong female, leading, characters are necessary. His last statement, that he writes strong women characters because he is still being asked why he does so, hits the nail on the head. Strong women characters are needed because there is still a distinction between a strong women character and a strong character.
So how can having strong female characters in movies and television shows lead the way to the equality that as Whedon says, “we need, kind of now”? As countless studies have shown, the shows we watch on television influence our perspective and therefore our future behavior. In the article “Sex sells, but what else does it do?”, Chris Pappas discusses this very idea of how what we watch affects the way we see the world. Pappas states “the phenomenon of the porn industry acts as a space wherein people negotiate, reinforce, or change their attitudes about what is right and wrong”. Change the words “the porn industry” to “the movie industry” or “the television industry” and the idea remains the same. What the consumer watches affects ones’ ideas of right and wrong, normal and abnormal, acceptable and unacceptable. Much like the feminist porn we read about has the power to change the way the public views female sexuality, strong female characters in popular television shows and movie have the power to change the way powerful females are viewed by the public.
How can strong female characters really make a difference in the way the general public views women, specifically strong women in leadership positions? Let’s start by looking at the problem, the way women around the world in leadership positions are treated. What do Hillary Clinton, Julia Gillard, Rosy Senanayake, and Cecile Duflot have in common? All four of these women are qualified politicians with years of experience, facts that can’t be denied even if you disagree with their particular political beliefs. Despite this, Hillary Clinton is consistently called out for being “the stereotypical bitch” and was told by a heckler to “iron my shirt”. Despite this, Julia Gillard (former Australian prime minister) had to deal with her opposing party serving a dish named after her, the “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail — small breasts, huge thighs, & a big red box”. Despite this, Rosy Senanayake (member of Sri Lanka’s opposition party and former Sri Lankan high commissioner in Malaysia) was told by the transport minister that he could not focus on her question because of her beauty and that he had thoughts about her that he’d prefer to not reveal to the public, all while in a Parliamentary session. Despite this, Cecile Duflot (at the time the French housing minister) was wolf-whistled whilst giving a speech in the national assembly. Men in political positions do not receive such treatment, and I would argue there’d be an uproar if there was an occasion of men being treated as such. Such treatment doesn’t just happen to women in politics, it happens to women in every sector of work and even in education.
Can strong female characters change this behavior and treatment? Alone, no, strong fictional female characters are not enough. But fiction has the power to inspire, the lead the way, to change how people view an issue. Strong female characters are inspirations for the girls and boys watching the shows (and reading the books) these characters are a part of. I know that for myself, two key inspirations were Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood. Both characters were strong women who worked for what they wanted, be it top grades or individuality, despite the negative feedback they received from the people around them. These characters were fictional, but they taught me that if I worked hard I could be as accomplished as I wanted to be in any field I chose. Characters like Joss Whedon’s Buffy continued this example for me, and countless other young girls I’m sure, showing that we were just as strong (physically, emotionally, and as leaders) as anyone else out there. Strong female characters provide an example that may not always be available in the real world, or are not as readily shown to youth populations, that can lead to those young girls becoming advocates for strong females in all sectors of life. Do you believe that strong female characters can influence social change?
Deborah L. Tolman discusses adolescent girls’ sexuality and the double standard surrounding it. Girls are expected to be sexy but not sexual, just as one of Hannah’s viewers commented that they wanted girls to sluts when with them but celibate elsewhere. The same binary is being reinforced in both statements. Tolman goes on to talk about “sexual socialization” which determines when it is appropriate to be sexual and to what extent.
In the video above Hannah Witton explores the idea of “dressing like a slut”. It’s a question she’s been asked time and time again, what type of clothes make a woman look like a slut? From here she then questions what does a slut even look like? In attempts to find an answer, Hannah begins by trying a whole variety of going out clothes. This led to Hannah raising a series of thought-provoking questions, about what defines a slut and how one could even tell who is a slut based on what they wear. She took to social media to determine what is a slut, asking people on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. Tumblr and Twitter users had fairly progressive definitions of what a “slut” is, acknowledging that it is a patriarchal concept and a derogatory term. Facebook users instead chose to describe a “slut” as a woman who has way too much sex or dresses like she does. Eventually she comes to the decision that there is no such thing as a slut, that every individual can decide for themselves how many people they sleep with. She furthers this statement, stating that the way a person dresses can in no way tell you how many people they sleep with.
This phenomena stating that the way a woman chooses to dress has anything to do with her sexual behavior is a very predominant ideal on college campus. While getting ready for a night out, I frequently have friends ask if the “shirt/shorts/skirt/dress” makes them look slutty; I’ve asked that question myself. As a female on a college campus, there often feels like there is a certain expectation to look attractive without looking too promiscuous. This creates a fine line between appropriate and inappropriate dress, with far different guidelines for the daytime and the nighttime. What often seems to hold the guidelines in place is the hook-up culture discussed by Bogle, females and males on college campuses seem to hold great value in who they hooked-up with (even if the definition of “hooking-up” varies greatly from person to person).
But why does what you wear have anything to do with your sexual history? For all you know, the girl in the teensy crop top and short shorts is a virgin and the girl in the turtleneck and jeans has slept with half the brothers in one fraternity. Does it even matter? Choice of dress and sexual history have no correlation or causation to connect each other, yet the impression that there is direct causation between the two seems to reign supreme. Is it that girls are told if they want to “get guys” they have to dress in skimpy, promiscuous-looking clothing, do girls who do want to have sex intentionally dress in those styles of clothing? Do you think the stereotypes reinforce the behavior or is there merit to the study?
Polyamory, what is it and who is involved? Polyamory is a different take on relationships, “in which people have multiple romantic, sexual, and/or affective partners”, according to Elizabeth Sheff. In her article Sheff describes a multitude of polyamorous couplings and styles, ranging from two women and a man in a loving relationship, to husband and wife pairs who also each have boyfriends and/or girlfriends. Sheff explores how people in the United States practice these different roles. This is a lifestyle and relationship style that is rarely portrayed as part of U.S. culture, but is a very real part.