Review Participation expectations: If you aren’t participating, you aren’t fulfilling 25% of the expectations of this course. I need to hear you talk. If you want to make the argument that speaking in (virtual) class is irrelevant, please explain…I’m also open to changing my perspective.
Critical Analysis of Culture Essay: If all went according to plan, I’ve finished commenting on these (so I’m going to be a bit behind on the discussion posts…). If you didn’t wow me, don’t worry, you’ll get another chance on a higher-stakes assignment, the Critical Analysis of Media Essay (due 4/13). Some of you may want to pursue publishing your next essay, and I encourage that. Let me know where you’re thinking of sending it, and I can offer advice: I’ve been rejected from many, many journals, including ones I’ve peer-reviewed, so I have lots of experience. All of you should be thinking about presenting at a future conference. If 3 or 4 of you have related topics, consider submitting as a panel.
What I Referenced Last Week
- “Where Does Religion Come From? One Researcher Points To ‘Cultural’ Evolution.” Hidden Brain Podcast hosted by Shankar Vedantam.
- Original Cover of Octavia Butler’s Dawn (Xenogenesis Series)
- Dynamite Hack’s “Boyz in the Hood”–definitely full of inappropriate language
Judith Butler’s “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution”
Some Definitions for Butler’s Reading
- Phenomenon: A thing which appears, or which is perceived or observed; a particular (kind of) fact, occurrence, or change as perceived through the senses or known intellectually; esp. a fact or occurrence, the cause or explanation of which is in question.
- Phenomenology: a. Philos. The metaphysical study or theory of phenomena in general (as distinct from that of being).
b. gen. The division of any science which is concerned with the description and classification of its phenomena, rather than causal or theoretical explanation.
- Illocution: An act such as ordering, warning, undertaking, performed in saying something.
- Epiphenomena: a. Something that appears in addition; a secondary symptom. Also transf.
b. spec. in Psychol. Applied to consciousness regarded as a by-product of the material activities of the brain and nerve-system.
- Episteme: Scientific knowledge, a system of understanding; spec. Foucault’s term for the body of ideas which shape the perception of knowledge at a particular period.
Quotations to Ponder from Butler
Remember, our conversations aren’t to find the last word. Discussions of gender and media happened before this class and will happen long after this class. We’re really just trying to get a handle on our moment in time (think “episteme” from above). One could immediately come out swinging and claim Butler is misguided and obtuse, but the better approach is to try to understand why she concludes the way she does. This is a tough read, so let’s focus on some key places in the text:
- Thesis…perhaps…p. 521: “the acts by which gender is constituted bear similarities to performative acts within theatrical contexts”
- p. 519: “gender…is an identity constituted in time–an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts”
- “…bodily gestures, movements, and enactments of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self”
- p. 520: “the possibilities of gender transformation are to be found in the arbitrary relation between…a different sort of repeating, in the breaking or subversive repetition of that style”
- p. 520: “Feminist theory has often been critical of naturalistic explanations of sex and sexuality that assume that the meaning of women’s social existence can be derived from some fact of their physiology”
- p. 521: “the body is a historical situation,…a manner of doing dramatizing, and reproducing a historical situation”
- p. 522: “those who fail to do their gender right are regularly punished”
- How so? Think of examples where women or men appear to perform roles opposite of the gender. Can you think of a situation where one gender is not punished for performing the opposite gender’s prescribed role?
- pp. 522-523: “The personal is thus political inasmuch as it is conditioned by shared social structures, but the personal has also been immunized against political challenge to the extent that public/private distinctions endure”
- In the context of this class, consider our discussions on the INDIVIDUAL and how our culture promotes an ideology of individualism.
- Our culture wants to believe that there’s a private self, in a vacuum, that is simply personal preference.
- Break with capital-F Feminism…perhaps…p. 523: “one ought to consider the futility of a political program which seeks radically to transform the social situation of women without first determining whether the category of woman is socially constructed in such a way that to be a woman is, by definition, to be in an oppressed situation.”
- Uh-oh…what is she suggesting? Think about our discussions of feminism not being monolithic.
- What’s to gain from holding onto the distinction of the binary categories of men and women?
- Barker & Jane discuss this topic of Butler’s when they bring up her warnings on using labels coined by oppressors: queer, gay, trans, etc. (might) “continue to echo [their] past pejorative usage” (p. 369).
- p. 524: “one way in which this system of compulsory heterosexuality is reproduced and concealed is through the cultivation of bodies into discrete sexes with ‘natural’ appearances and ‘natural’ heterosexual dispositions”
More on Butler from Barker & Jane’s Ch. 9
- p. 366: “‘performativity’ is not as the act by which a subject brings into being…rather ‘as that reiterative power of discourse to produce the phenomena that it regulates and constrains’.
- “‘sex’ is produced as a reiteration of hegemonic norms understood as a performativity that is always derivative.”
- Why don’t hipsters like math?
–It’s so derivative.
- “…but an iterable practice, is secured through being repeatedly performed.”
- p. 367: “Performativity is not a singular act for it is constituted by the reiteration of a set of norms.”
- “…the performance of sex is compelled by a regulatory apparatus of heterosexuality that reiterates itself through the forcible production of ‘sex’.”
- “For Butler, identification [or, taking on the normative idealization of sex] is understood as a kind of affiliation and expression of an emotion tie with an idealized fantasized object (person, body part) or normative ideal.”
- “For Butler psychoanalysis highlights the very instability of identity.”
- p. 369: “For Butler, all identity categories are necessary fictions which, though we continue to use them should simultaneously be interrogated.
Roland Barthes’s “Novels and Children”
Well, luck for us, I did a presentation that incorporated this, and I have a separate page that provides some more detail. Let’s take a look at the first part of my recent SEACS 2021 Presentation.
Ch. 9 “Sex, Subjectivity, and Representation”
Quite a bit in this chapter is repeated in other places, but repetition is good for us. In fact, it helps reinforce your own ways of analyzing texts, so you must have lots to say, so discuss the gendered nature of texts you’ve consumed.
- Let’s see if we can watch this video through my sharing the screen. I’m curious how the sound is for you. It’s a 30-secound commercial for, well, just check it out:
- What do cyborgs, Barbie dolls, G.I. Joe Action Figures, and this product say about gender? What does it say about 1980s America…white America…very white America?
- Oh, I’m just a girl, take a good look at me
Just your typical prototype
—Who is typical about the “girl” Gwen Stefani/No Doubt reference?
- Modern Family discussion from another class
Still can’t think of what media texts to relate to discussions of sex/sexuality? How about these:
- The L-Word (2004-2009)
- The Real L-Word (2010-2012)
- Queer as Folk (2000-2005)
- Hollywood (Netflix miniseries )
So Many Feminisms, so Little Time
There’s no way to capture all of this in a class or, more accurately, the second-half of class. I want to stimulate your thinking, so you have ideas for analysis for your next essay, so how can you use the arguments from the chapter to critique media you consume? If no one talks, I’m just going to bash romantic comedies for the rest of the class. In fact, I’ll start with mentioning how a friend of mine blocked Lifetime using the TV’s parental control option. This functionality was new at the time, and we were about to watch “the game” (obviously football, and no need to qualify it with “American football” because there’s no other kind), and he showed us the features. We all laughed when he blocked the channel. I think we also had a bachelor party that night, which might be why I don’t remember anything else…
- pp. 343: Feminisms: liberal, difference, socialist, radical,* poststructuralist, black, postcolonial, postfeminism.
- “radical feminism” is on p. 347, but deserves to go here
- p. 347: postfeminism claims “the most significant and systematic institutional barriers to women’s participation in politics and culture have been removed in the West.”
- pp. 347-348: “The performance of victim identity reinforces the myth that women are the ‘weaker sex’…risk[ing] perpetuating the power dynamic inherent between victim and perpetrator (or victim and voyeur).
- p. 350: “poststructuralist feminists and other writers reject the sex-gender split.”
- p. 351: “many so-called biological ‘facts’ about women and men are not supported by empirical evidence. Indeed, many of the classic differences between women and men are exaggerated or non-existent.”
- p. 352: “the 1990s period of science exaggerated difference, underplayed similarity, and glossed over the complex ways that brains, hormones, genes, and culture actually work.”
- So what can we say about people who graduated college in the 1990s and stopped learning about the revisions to gender(ed) science?
- p. 353: “Reproductive anatomy is just one measure used by biological scientists to describe a person’s sex.”
- p. 356: “It is likely that many differences are learned and shaped by culture rather than being something we are born with.”
- “…human culture and human biology have co-evolved and are indivisible.”
- p. 357: Luce Irigaray (Loos) argues that male-dominated culture is phallocentric and unable to describe the “feminine”; therefore, her representation is a “symbolic” discursive attempt that “lacks a grammar that could articulate the mother-daughter relationship, [and] the feminine…can only return in its regulated form as man’s ‘Other’.”
- To make the psychoanalytic argument reductive for our purposes, consider that women have a discursive space incomprehensible to men.
- p. 358: Western philosophy–written by, for, and about men–is the language and basis for knowledge “guaranteeing the masculine order and its claims to self-origination.”
- “Irigaray…critique[s] philosophy for its exclusions while using the very language of that philosophy.
- See bell hooks’s discussion on speaking in the language of the oppressor.
- p. 359: “Catharine MacKinnon….argues that women’s subordination is a matter of social power founded on men’s dominance of institutionalized heterosexuality.”
- Reading Adrienne Rich’s “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” essay in FYW…that went over really well.
- p, 359: “sex and gender are infinitely malleable…they are moulded and regulated into specific forms under particular historical and cultural conditions.”
- p. 361: From Foucault, “…the discourses of modern science….produced women as hysterical and nervous subjects while reducing them to their reproductive system.”
- p. 365: From Julia Kristeva:
- “We may identify with gendered identities but one cannot be a woman in an essentialist ontological sense.
- “Sexual identity is not an essence but a matter of representation.”
- “…degrees of masculinity and femininity are said to exist in biological men and women.”
- p. 370: Coming out narratives have been important for visibility, but they’ve been critiqued for their often rigid, linear progression from ‘in’ to ‘out’.
- I’ve been told “coming out narratives are heteronormative…the most heteronormative clichés in the media.
What about TERF Wars?
We discussed Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism (TERF) briefly earlier this semester, and here Barker & Jane bring it up, providing a “balance” of sorts. I usually don’t offer my biases, but I’ll mention this:
Feminism is broad enough to include a variety of perspectives, from radical feminism to Sarah Palin,* so it makes sense that some self-described feminists might exclude transgendered individuals–it’s not a monolithic movement, consciousness, or theoretical perspective. However, one cannot claim to be a gender/sexuality scholar and believe transgender, non-binary, questioning, etc. identities aren’t worth discussion. Such exclusion is the apex of ignorance.* Ok…maybe not Palin, but many 2nd Wave feminists pointed out that the female-misogynist activist Phyllis Schlafly was more liberated than they were.
- If you’re interested in a somewhat-contemporary text on TERF wars, check out the “Man on the Land” episode from Transparent (2014-2019). It’s fascinating.
- p. 371: Quoting Michelle Goldberg “‘…what’s determinative isn’t people’s chromosomes or their genitals or the way they were brought up but how they see themselves’ (2014).”
- p. 371: TERF feminists “insist transgender women should not be allowed to use women’s public bathrooms or to participate in women-only events.”
- p. 373: From Judith Butler…”we may not need the language of innateness or genetics to understand that we are all ethically bound to recognize another person’s declared or enacted sense of sex and/or gender.”
Men and Masculinity(ies)
We may need a “typical” male to help us define masculinity, but Barker & Jane identify how we might study masculinity/ies.
- p. 374: Giddens, “In Western culture at least, today is the first period in which men are finding themselves to be men, that is, as possessing a problematic ‘masculinity.'”
- p. 375: “The modernist division of labour gave men the role of providing wages of survival and women the domestic duties of child-rearing and housekeeping.”
- “…hyper-individualism, competitiveness, and separation from the relational….These traditional values of masculinity may no longer be serving men well.”
- p. 376: “according to Steve Biddulph….loneliness, compulsive competition, and lifelong emotional timidity–are rooted in the adoption of impossible images of masculinity that men try, but fail to live up to.”
- “…low self-esteem (itself an outcome of family life), along with the self-perceived failure to meet cultural expectations of achievement, lies at the root of depression and drug abuse amongst men.”
- p. 377: “Downsizing, unemployment, the Vietnam and Korean Wars, feminism, and the decline in public concern with space travel all undermined the confidence and security of post-war American men.”
- Susan Faludi…”Ornamental culture is a culture of celebrity, image, entertainment, and marketing, all underpinned by consumerism….masculinity becomes a performance game to be won in the marketplace.”
As someone who loves the 1990s, I’m surprised I was able to avoid referencing Salt-N-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk about Sex.” Many used it as an intro to any discussion of sexuality. While I’m at it, how do we define “sexuality.”?
How to Argue in a Rhetorical Analysis
Based on some of the essays I read, I think a discussion on preparing a topic and using sound, logical arguments is warranted. Now, I’m someone who wants airtight arguments weaved throughout your essays. I don’t want to work to find the argument, I need you to make it crystal clear. Don’t worry, you’ll never be able to completely please me and craft a fully coherent argument, but you certainly should try. There is no finishing your thoughts on a topic: there are only deadlines that make you stop. Below is an example of a rhetorical analysis that you can model for your next essay. Notice how it’s structured and what evidence you’d want to supply if your were writing this as an essay.
Role of Women in Media
Maybe I read too much into things, but I see so many romantic comedies ending the same way–marriage and/or children. In fact, it’s not even just romantic comedies: there are countless shows and films that follow the “boy meets girl” format. What do we think about this romantic pattern?
For instance, what’s the rhetoric behind Hollywood movies that end in marriage and/or babies? Well, getting married and having children is a major cultural practice, so that gets “played out” in films. Additionally, women are often consider babymakers in search of a man to donate the necessary ingredient, so female characters in Hollywood films have traditionally not been *complete* until they marry and have children or somehow fulfill a woman’s socially constructed “proper” role according to prevailing attitudes. Because our culture (remember, this is a generalization) favors families as opposed to singles, the rhetoric of our entertainment–the power behind acceptance or enjoyment of a film–conforms to the cultural value of privileging families.
Double Standards…(Time permitting)
Right about now is when we start talking about double standards. The authors we’ve read recently (as well as Jean Kilbourne) point out that men don’t have the same stigmas attached to them or the same expectations:
- Things to think about as you contemplate our gender analysis discussions:
- What are some roles and expectations that women have but men don’t or, at least, don’t have to the same extent?
- Where do these roles or expectations show up? Be specific. Don’t just say “the media”–that’s a given in this class.
- Let’s review a discussion on Language and Hegemony.
- Where else do ideal(ized) images get reproduced?
Here’s an interesting look at Breastaurants, but the video no longer plays. Of course, you could watch these:
- Twin Peaks Orlando
- 30-sec Mantality commercial
- Tailgate Rivals Hot Spot (I doubt you’ll finish this one).
There’s even an NPR story on Breastaurants.–brings new meaning to economic “bust” (by the way, that’s not my clever joke; it’s in the article). And, if you want even more discussion and a legal perspective, this article’s for you: “The Battle of the ‘Breastaurants’”.
Keep up with the reading. We’re not just getting real next week–we’re getting hyperreal with Umberto Eco. We’ll also check out Barker & Jane’s Ch. 10: “Television, Texts, and Audiences.”