Friday, March 11, 2011


While a master’s student at the University of Akron, I had the opportunity to both attend and present at the universities 2nd Biannual Interdisciplinary Gender Symposium in 2008. A feminist sociologist, Judith Lorber (not to be confused with Judith Butler), was the keynote speaker at this event and posed the question of whether it is possible to live in a world without gender.

Gender constructions and the need to adhere to certain forms of gender identities is so ingrained in almost all cultures that often humans may forget that such gender inequalities do or quite simply the concept of gender does, in fact, exist. Most cultures tell us that gender is a vital and necessary concept in which life cannot exist without- as if culture and gender are in an ever binding marriage. Conceptions of gender are so pervasive in society that it seems that the majority of cultures not only do not want to imagine a world without gender but could not imagine one – as if the existence of gender constitutes the “being” in the world. But is this not the case? If the concept of gender was to entirely disappear from the world how would beings in the world communicate, form relationships, or for that matter simply exist? While imagining the existence of a world without gender is, at least thus far in culture, rather inexplicable, many theorists have raised awareness about constructions of gender in all walks of society. While each theory differs analytically, taken as a whole disciplinary area of study, feminist/queer studies focus on raising awareness about and/or exposing ideologies, along with hegemonic systems, that permeate as the dominant in societies. And while our readings do not stress the current issues within gender studies per se, I would argue that feminist studies today represents an arena for theorizing and analyzing all ideological constructs in society, including issues surrounding sexism, heterosexism, racism, classism, ageism, and ableism. Wherever the “isms” of society are present, feminist studies, as a form of opposition, looks to theorize and critique such ideologies. This essay will generally adhere to a chronological order of feminist/queer theories since the start of the second wave feminist movement, except for Beauvoir who wrote before this time period. I will first begin with the binary gender theories of white, privileged women in the second wave era.

Hierarchical Feminism: White, Privileged Politics

Friedan leading women in support of the ERA, 1971

In 1963, Betty Friedan published the Feminine Mystique and became known as one of the central leaders of the second wave feminist movement. In the section, The Problem that Has No Name, Friedan emphasizes the problem of women bound to the domestic roles of housewives and mothers. In this essay, Friedan emphasizes that culture places women under strict codes for perpetuating femininity, even for young girls. However, as she discusses these problems surrounding women’s focus as mothers and the pressure to perfect “femininity” instead of focusing on their education and careers, Friedan excludes mentioning many relevant ideological problems in relation to gender- race and class- which have caused many criticisms of the second wave feminist movement in particular. Friedan is generally speaking on behalf of middle-class, suburban housewives who have financial means, the luxury of being stay-at-home mothers, and the opportunity to become better educated if they so desire. Unfortunately, Friedan does not seem to present an argument for non-white women or women who are single, single mothers, poor, and/or uneducated. Third-wave feminism, which is sometimes also referred to as post-feminism or postmodern feminism, was formed, in part, in response to the inequalities of such privileged, white women’s viewpoints. Its central purpose is to bring awareness to non-white, women issues and to also focus on problematics of gender and economics/class. 1 A more current example of this white feminist exclusion is the 2004 March for Women’s Lives, in which women of color were originally excluded from the planning process of this event until they voiced their criticisms of this discrimination. 2

De Beauvoir

Similarly, Simone De Beauvoir (1949) discusses the problem of women being objectified by men and ultimately viewed as the Other in society. Man “is the subject, he is the absolute – she is the Other” (Social Theory, p. 346). Here, De Beauvoir argues that a binary system of gender exists and the dominant (man) “sets himself up as the essential, as opposed to the other (woman), the inessential, the object” (Social Theory, p. 346). De Beauvoir argues that women, as a categorized other, are not viewed as a minority (race) nor have been treated as such through a historical event or a social change; rather, women have been categorized, through men’s existence, as dependent of men- the receivers of what men have granted them. De Beauvoir asserts that it is the women’s problem if she remains submissive and does not rally for social change. Providing a binary system of femininity and masculinity, Be Beauvoir believes that sex is biological and gender is culturalized; Storey adds that this suggests “that while biological sex is stable, there will always be different and competing (historically and socially variable) ‘versions’ of femininity and masculinity” (p. 160).

Women in Film: The Male Gaze

Laura Mulvey

Extending the theory of women’s objectification as Beauvoir discusses, Laura Mulvey (1975) theorizes about the female spectator in film, a concept she deems the male gaze. As we learned from prior psychoanalysis readings, this “gendered” gaze privileges the male viewpoint and presents women as objectified for men’s desire and as signifiers of the threat of castration. Feminist scholars, including Gamman and Marshment (1998) and Gledhill (2009), have disagreed with the “universal validity” of Mulvey’s conceptualizing the male gaze as “always male, or whether it is merely dominant among a range of different ways of seeing, including the female gaze” (Storey, p. 137). Instead, these scholars argue that popular culture serves as a ground in which ideological concepts are not as stabilized as some may argue; rather, such ideologies can also be both contested and disturbed. 3 Mulvey developed the theory of the male gaze in the mid 1970s right before the period of music videos slowly began emerging as a new genre in popular culture. Sut Jhally, a media/cultural critic, has conducted significant research on the male gaze in modern day music videos, specifically constructions of storytelling, femininity, and masculinity as portrayed in music videos. Agreeing with Mulvey’s view of the male gaze, Jully goes a step further to theorize of a pornographic gaze in music videos in his video, Dreamworlds 3. A previous post contains the links for each section of this video. If you do not have the time to watch all the sections (as it is over an hour long), then I encourage you to take the time to watch parts three and four, and if time allows you to, also the introduction and conclusion. I find Jully’s work to be a profound example of the male gaze at work in contemporary society. If you do not have access to listen/watch these videos, then you can read the transcript at this link:

Femininity and Pleasurable Escapism

In opposition to Mulvey’s conception of the male gaze, Stacey (1994) focuses on analyzing the actual audience viewing a film and not the audience which the text means to construct. Three discourses appeared from Stacey’s analysis of women’s responses: escapism- women were pleasured by escaping into this ritualized and shared experience away from the troubled times of society and their feminine roles; identification, with the fantasy being depicted; and consumption- where the focus is on audiences actually make meanings from their consumption practices and not how the film industry produces the film goers (Storey, p. 139).

Elaborating on the methodology of audience analysis, Coward found that romantic fictions’ fantasies are depicted as “pre-adolescent, very nearly pre-conscious,” and ultimately presents the girl – as in the Oedipal drama- as finding security by marrying a man like her father, which will protect her from fear and keep her secure; and also, by marrying a man the girl will feel that she has power by acting obedient to her superior- her husband (Storey, p. 141). Using Chodorow’s (1978) work, Radaway (1987), who also analyzes romance novels, claims that romantic fictions depict fantasies of reciprocation in which the women are nurtured for and protected, fulfilling a maternal need for women readers. Storey notes that this notion differs from Coward’s because in this perspective regression is focused on the mother and not the father, as in Coward. Radaway also asserts that romantic fictions that depict narratives of women being nurtured present the female self as the other or in relation to others, while the male self is depicted as self-directed and independent. In these romantic reading encounters, women will identify with the heroine’ journey and this identification will determine if the romance is good or bad. During this romantic “journey,” women will escape and become other for a short period of time. According to Radaway, before returning from their “escape,” women readers must reassure themselves that both men and marriage are good aspects for women. While patriarchy is very much alive in these fictions, women must find ways of reading such patriarchal texts so that patriarchy, including male dominance/violence, no longer appears to be problematic. One key component which Stacey, Coward, and Radaway emphasize is that the ideological cultural representations of women are not static, and there is room for feminist and others alike to work in oppositional practices to contest existing representations, because “where there is power there is resistance” (Storey. p. 145-146).

Ang (1985) proposes that the television program, Dallas, is an exemplar of emotional realism, in which viewers selectively read “across the text from denotation to connotation, weaving our sense of self in and out of the narrative” (Storey, p. 148). In this sense, viewers who are escaping by watching these texts and moving the narrative to connotative meanings are playing with reality, in an imaginary participation in which this fictional reality is considered as pleasurable. Similar to Radaway’s analysis, Ang also finds that many women viewers experience Dallas as pleasure through the melodramatic imagination, which “offers a means of organizing reality into meaningful contrast and conflicts” (Storey, p. 149). Here, this “melodramatic imagination activates Dallas’s tragic feeling, which in turn produces the pleasure of emotional realism” (Storey, p. 149). Lastly, through the analysis of women’s magazines, Winship (1987) found that what is ultimately being sold through fictions of women’s magazines is the idea of pleasurable femininity. Winship finds this to be problematic because through these editorials and advertisements, which promote certain behaviors and products to become a “better” woman, the focus centers on the individual woman and therefore proposes an individual solution to overcome all patriarchal societal problems.

Beyond Binary Systems of Sexuality: Queer Theories

Stemming from feminist studies, queer theories looks to “attack the very ‘naturalness’ of gender and by extension, the fictions supporting compulsory heterosexuality” (Storey, p. 160). Week’s (1991) discusses Adrienne Rich’s notions of compulsory heterosexuality and political lesbianism. For Rich, lesbianism serves as a way for women to become “sexually and emotionally independent of men,” and beyond this, to support female existence and “bonding against male tyranny” (Social Theory, p. 560). Rich finds compulsory heterosexuality to be “the key mechanism of control of women,” and further denies women the chance of enacting a lesbian continuum (Social Theory, p. 560). Critics of Rich’s lesbian continuum find it to be problematic to claim that lesbian sexuality is natural and that female heterosexuality is socially constructed, and critics also argue that lesbian eroticism has been historically denied.

Judith Butler (1991) argues that that there are no necessarily commonalities among lesbians and there is no way of specifying or distinguishing gender identity(ies) in general. Butler extends the notion of compulsory heterosexuality and argues against the binary gender system of sex as biological and gender as culturalized; rather, Butler theorizes that “the category of ‘sex’ itself a gendered category, fully politically invested, naturalized but not natural” (Storey, p. 161). Butler notes that, “although compulsory heterosexuality often presumes that there is first a sex that is expressed through a gender and then through a sexuality, it may now be necessary fully to invert and displace that operation of thought” (Social Theory, p. 573). Butler’s theory extends Beauvoir’s notion that one is not born a woman, but becomes a woman, and further radicalizes this notion by theorizing that “one can if one chooses, become neither female nor male, women nor man” (Storey, p. 161).

To make her point about gender identity, Butler uses the example of drag; “to be in drag is not to copy an original and natural gender identity, it is to ‘imitate the myth of originality itself’” (Storey, p. 162). Butler uses the example of Aretha Franklin’s “A Natural Women” as example of the performance of drag – the man makes the woman feel like she is natural- as if she is imitating the origin of her gender identity. Another example of this drag concept is one which I heard driving today to work: Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature:” 4

Looking Out
Across The Night-Time
The City Winks A Sleepless Eye
Hear Her Voice
Shake My Window
Sweet Seducing Sighs

Get Me Out
Into The Night-Time
Four Walls Won’t Hold Me Tonight
If This Town
Is Just An Apple
Then Let Me Take A Bite

If They Say -
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way
If They Say -
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way

Reaching Out
To Touch A Stranger
Electric Eyes Are Ev’rywhere
See That Girl
She Knows I’m Watching
She Likes The Way I Stare

If They Say -
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way
If They Say -
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way
I Like Livin’ This Way
I Like Lovin’ This Way

Looking Out
Across The Morning
The City’s Heart Begins To Beat
Reaching Out
I Touch Her Shoulder
I’m Dreaming Of The Street

If They Say -
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way
If They Say -
Why, Why, Tell ‘Em That Is Human Nature
Why, Why, Does He Do Me That Way
I Like Livin’ This Way

In these lyrics, a man is portrayed as symbolizing women as the city - as part of nature, ultimately as a part of the man’s “dreamworld” of consumption. In these lyrics, heterosexual masculinity is constructing women’s sexuality/gender (femininity) and men’s gender is being performed and imitated to reflect compulsory heterosexuality. Here, man’s heterosexuality wants to consume (bit) nature (her), wants to stalk a woman, make her speak seductively, and touch her. In this portrayal, the man “imitates” his sexuality and his definition of women’s sexuality, by proclaiming that it is natural to act (“perform”) in such a way. He is performing and imitating the heterosexual masculinity that is seen as the “original” in culture. In addition, Sedgwick (1990) paraphrasing Foucault notes “that the modern Western culture has placed what it calls sexuality in a more and more distinctively privileged relation to our most prized constructs of individual identity, truth, and knowledge, it becomes truer and truer that the language of sexuality not only intersects with but transforms the other languages and relations by which we know…” (Social Theory, p. 663).

Overall, these feminist/queer theories tell us that there are many gender inequalities that exist in all walks of society. While these theories offer ways of viewing such gender ideologies, few have tried to come up with a “solution” to actually radically alter or stop the ACT OF GENDER in culture. As I posed at the beginning of this post, can a world really function without gender? And if so, how would this effect the existence of other ideologies such as race and class in culture?

Secondly, do you find anything to be natural about biological sex and/or gender? Is there such a concept of human nature that is “natural”?

Lastly, our readings barely touch on male/masculinity studies. What do you think would be some feminist/queer approaches to critiquing masculinity in culture that have not already been touched upon?

*Buried beneath the dreamworld videos are postings for three different types of hip-hop videos. I encourage you to watch them and note film viewpoint differences between them.

Happy Belated Women’s International Day Everyone!!


[1] Storey only lists a few different forms of feminism in his gender chapter, citing Tong’s older edition on feminist theories. For more discussion of post-feminism/postmodern feminism and a more current and extended version concerning the different types/branches of feminism, see: Tong, R. (2009). Feminist Thought: A more comprehensive introduction (3Ed). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

[2] For more about women of color and feminist exclusion see:

Silliman, J et al. (2004). Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Rights. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

[3] For a more-in depth look at the directions of feminist media criticism, feminist views of the male gaze, and feminist media reception studies, see: Watkins, C. S, & Emerson, R. A. (2000).

Feminist media criticism and feminist media practices. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 571, 151-166.

Unfortunately, there is not a music video for this song to accompany the lyrics and to use for relative analysis.


  1. Kristen makes a good point about the critique of second-wave feminism: that it often pertains to a very specific demographic of women—white and middle class. One can see this limited notion dominant in many of today’s representations of sexism, such as in this “Badger” commercial for a car dealership: . Here, a gruff, “male” salesman (i.e. the badger) assumes that the woman expressing interest in buying an SUV is husband-dependent, that she can’t drive, and that she only cares about her appearance.

    I also think that Kristen asks a tough question about whether or not we can exist in a world without gender. As the readings for this week all point out, the concept of gender is deeply ingrained into our ways of seeing the world, and in that sense, it indeed seems hard to imagine what a world in which gender had been irradiated.

    In thinking about this question, I wonder if we could find insights by comparing gender to the construction of race. As many theorists across the social sciences and humanities have pointed out, “race” is socially constructed, and to argue for the biological existence of race is difficult if not impossible. Nonetheless, race, like gender, contains cultural meaning for better or worse, and I think that it is arguable that imagining a world without race does more harm than good. In the case of the United States’ racial politics, for example, “colorblind” policies have often done more harm than good by allowing elusive patterns of racism to persist. Thus, while the goal of a world without race or gender might be ideal, I wonder if it is desirable in our situation; that is, I wonder if the category has positive resources for resistance.

    In this respect, de Beauvoir implies such a resource. She makes the salient point that gender is often the least available category for organizing oppressed women (in contrast to the categories of race or class): “[Women] live dispersed among the males, attached through residence, housework, economic condition, and social standing to certain men—fathers or husbands—more firmly than they are to other women. If they belong to the bourgeoisie, they feel solidarity with men of that class, not with proletarian women; if they are white, their allegiance is to white men, not to Negro women. […] The bond that unites her to her oppressors is not comparable to any other” (347). In other words, while gender has cultural meaning, her point implies that gender has become so naturalized that many women do not even consider it a salient category that would unite them to other women, as she points out in the passage from which this quote comes.

    Thus, while one could conclude that we should irradiate gender because it is a construction (or as Butler argues, a performance—“gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original” [568]), a construction that has enabled so much oppression, I also wonder if the category of gender has positive resources for resistance and if, given the sexist state of the world, we should not be too quick to imagine life without it.

  2. It has been said that Gene Roddenberry used Star Trek as a means of imagining an unracialized, ungendered world. To be sure, if the sexual behavior of James T. Kirk is a measure, this was never fully accomplished in either the original series or in any of the subsequent series or movies that make up the brand. Yet, each movie and each series as well as the books that make up the vast Star Trek world attempt build on Roddenberry’s vision. So, the question of whether we can imagine a world without gender (or race or class, etc.) is always an interesting question to engage. And, when I engage it, my mind often turns to episodes of Star Trek, whether the original series or later generations.

    As I consider this weeks posting and readings, I am reminded of a particular episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation titled The Outcast. In this episode, the crew of the Enterprise encounters a race of genderless people. Some have called it the “gay episode.” In any case, this episode introduces the viewer to the J'naii. For them it is considered “a criminal perversion … to identify as either male or female.” More about this episode can be found on this wiki post ( Needless to say, while it is a criminal perversion to be gendered, there are those who perceive themselves differently and this struggle forms the subplot of the episode. One exchange between Soren (the struggling J’naii) and Riker (the First Officer of the Enterprise) goes like this:

    Soren: "On my planet, we have been taught that gender is primitive."
    Riker: "Primitive? Maybe so, but sometimes, there is a lot to be said for an experience that's...primitive."

    I often think back to the episode when the questions of difference are raised. This week it is the question of gender and imagining a world were there aren’t gender categories or structures. We also have the question of sexuality identity. Later this term, we will discuss race and ethnicity. In each case, the theories begin with the question, “What does it mean to be…?” One fills in the blank and then begins to explore. What quickly emerges are spectrums of definitions (e.g., ranging from de Beauvoir to Friedan). An oversimplified statement of the problem orients it in ways of perceiving and interpreting. The Star Trek episode I cited makes this argument in some pointed ways.

    In all of our discourse in this seminar and in larger arenas, we will try to imagine a world where differences and diversity of being don’t matter. We see difference and diversity and cannot help trying to make sense of it. That which is outside of us, must be reconciled to us in some way.

    Yet, I cannot imagine a world where there are no differences (gender, color, behavior, etc.) The observable world is diverse and the diversity is important for the functioning of larger wholes. I can imagine with John Lennon that we can be different without being in hierarchies or privileging one way of being over another. As Soren (Memory Alpha) argues passionately at her trial

    "I am female. I was born that way. I have had those feelings, those longings, all of my life. It is not unnatural. I am not sick because I feel this way. I do not need to be helped. I do not need to be cured. What I need, and what all of those who are like me need, is your understanding… [Yet] we are called misfits, and deviants and criminals. What right do you have to punish us? What right do you have to change us? What makes you think you can dictate how people love each other?"

    I can imagine a wide range of possibilities for human being. If nothing else, the diversity that exists and that I can imagine makes life quite interesting.

  3. Kristen, great Judith Butler picture. Ha!

    In regards to your first question-what would allow us to function without gender would simultaneously allow us to function without race (as Mark wisely points out) and to some degree, class. As we learn from Sedgwick, “contests for discursive power can specified as competitions for the material or rhetorical leverage required to set the terms of, and to profit in some way from, the operations of such an incoherence of definition” (ST, p. 665). In other words, what we view as “gender” is derived out the negotiation of this definition, just like one’s sexual orientation. When we turn to our earlier reading of Foucault, he argues that power “is the name that one attributes to a complex strategically situation in a particular society” (p. 464). If we were to function without gender in this world, than inevitably, we would remove this negotiation. Since this is the same constraints that race, class, and other identities are negotiated, the effect wouldn’t be an issue. Indeed, to truly live/function in a world without gender, we could not make gender invisible, because doing so would only make it just as “erased from discourse” that Butler argues occurs with lesbianism (ST, p. 568). Regardless of whether you argue that meaning is derived from bases or human relations, you would have to remove meaning-making to have a world that functions without gender/race/sexual orientation/class/etc.
    Although I hate to describe anything as natural since even that becomes a contested term as well, I do believe that if one accepts the scientific paradigm/language there are biological distinctions between human beings based upon their chemical makeup and presence or lack of presence certain sexual organs. However, this is often misrepresented. A great example of this is how the presence testosterone is often linked to risky behavior. While high levels of testosterone might be associated with bull riding or mountain behavior, risky behavior that is associated with unstable jobs such as acting, singing, and painting are often overlooked [1]. Yet, even a measurement of one’s testosterone says very little about how it actually performs. Weeks is correct when he says, “identities must always be about relationships: to ourselves, precarious unities of conflicting desires and social commitments ‘composed of heterogeneous fragments of fossilized cultures,’ and to others, who address us and call upon our recognition in diverse ways and through whom our sense of self is always negotiated”(ST, 562). Regardless of whose language we use, if we recognize the fluidity of how we determine race, gender, sexual orientation, class, political affiliation, age and other identities, then eradicating these identities no longer needs to be a solution.
    To answer your third question, I think many of the readings we read touched upon discussion regarding the white middle-class hetro-normative masculinity being viewed as the center. However, like how de Beauvior describes women as the “Other” in her article, other interpretations of masculinity are absent from the discussion. The historical treatment of men outside of “the norm” such as Black men in the segregated South, gay men, men from other cultures, men from certain socio-economic classes, and even self-identified “Wussy Boys” [2] are not part of this “centralized masculinity.” This doesn’t even include individuals who self-identify as transgender.

    As a side note, I think Darren raises a good point with the Star Trek reference. I think Trills [3] are another nongendered Star Trek example.




  4. Kristen poses some thought-provoking questions this week. I was especially drawn to this question: “do you find anything to be natural about biological sex and/or gender? Is there such a concept of human nature that is ‘natural’”?

    As de Beauvoir writes, “the division of the sexes is a biological fact, not an event in human history” (ST 347). As simply as this is put, I found it to be a key insight. While reading this week, I kept asking myself, “When/where/how did this division between the sexes originate?” I was, clearly, (mis)conceiving the question in terms of “an event in human history” rather than viewing it as a “biological fact.” Having said that, a line of thinking concerned with biological distinctions as historical took me to an interesting place.

    A source from which an overwhelming number of people derive their understandings about natural distinctions between men and women is the Holy Bible in general and, in particular, the Creation Story in the Book of Genesis. Genesis 1:27 reads: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (King James Version, hereafter abbreviated as “KJV”). The author elaborates in chapter 2, verse 18 that “the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him’” (KJV). Verses 22-23: “And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man’” (KJV).

    For a great many, the text above relays THE historical starting point for divisions of identity, capabilities, work, and so on -- based in terms of biological origin via both a Divine will and man’s need for companionship. Man was created first, and in the Image of God: from this, man derives his position and power – familial, religious, political, and so on. Woman, on the other hand, emerges not in her own right, but from the body of man as a “help meet,” or rather a “helper.” Not only is her body not her own (she comes from man and is, thus, eternally bound to and dependent on him), but also her sole function is to nurture. Therefore, as de Beauvoir observes, “humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being” (ST 345).

    From this feminist-inspired reading, we see the origin of one way of thinking about biology as lending itself to seemingly natural gender roles for men and women. I’m still not entirely sure where I stand in relation to Kristen’s question. But I do know that whether we actually believe that the Bible delineates the literal origin of man and woman is irrelevant here, because the ideologies we associate with the above passages continue to be textually reproduced and, as a result, persist in shaping how we see and function in the world to this day and in contexts both religious and otherwise.

  5. The Dreamworlds 3 part 2 Constructing Femininity video that Kristen posted is a superlative, modern example of the essential arguments De Beauvoir makes in her piece Woman as Other. De Beauvoir notes that the relationship between women and men is one in which the man establishes himself as the essential, dominant person, as opposed to the lesser person—woman (Social Theory, p. 346). I agree with the narrator that music videos exemplify that point by casting women as either the objects of male fantasies; as objects to care for things important to men such as car, motorbikes, and airplanes; or as helpless children whose world falls apart when the male, paternal figure is not present. In other words, this is an example of what could be considered male narcissism, in which men are at the center and women only exist to help develop the male narrative.

    Moreover, that particular video also addresses Butler’s theory of performativity when it notes at the very beginning that “Our ideals of what it means to be a socially acceptable man or woman have not been genetically encoded in our biological genes, but come from the stories culture tell us of what is normal and what is not.” From childhood to adulthood, a person is “called” or “shaped” into a particular gender role based on their expose to the numerous dos and don’ts speeches about acceptable behavior for males and acceptable behavior for females. In addition to the speeches, which primarily come from parents and other adult figures, things like the music videos also perform the task of shaping a person into a particular being. For example, it is not uncommon for young people to enthrall themselves into music videos—I have a four year old niece who watches music videos with her older brother. As such, by seeing the women dressed in sexy lingerie, being aroused by their male counter parts, and observing women enact male fantasies, my niece, at the tender age of four, already had a idea of what “how women act.”

  6. This week’s reading have a particular tie to my research interest of gender roles in online fantasy football leagues. First, Storey’s coverage of consumption of gendered media such as romance novels, women’s magazine, and Dallas provide an interesting insight into female fans. Radway argues that it is important “to acknowledge the activity of readers – their selections, purchases, interpretations, appropriations, uses, etc. – as an essential part of the cultural processes and complex practices of making meaning in the lived cultures of everyday life” (Storey, pg. 145). For me, this statement justifies my interest in the activities of female football fans, specifically in the area of fantasy football. But it is Joke Hermes’ comment that “almost all of these studies show concern rather than respect for those who read women’s magazines” (Storey, pg. 156) that connects the feminist study of female media consumption to Butler’s theory on sex and gender and led to Ang’s criticism of Radway’s Reading the Romance arguing that “feminists should not set themselves as the guardians of the true path (Storey, pg. 146). For example, last night I was watching a rerun of ‘How I Met Your Mother’ and in this rerun Lily receives an Easy Bake Oven from Marshall for Christmas. Marshall got the idea from Ted, who we are shown in a flashback, found out from Lily that she always wanted one but was denied it by her feminist mother (as stated by Lily) because she thought that it reinforced traditional gender roles. I think for most of us this has been the traditional understanding of what it means to be feminist.

    Butler argues that “gender is not to culture as sex is to nature; gender is also the discursive/cultural means by which sexed nature or a natural sex is produced and established as prediscursive” (Storey, pg. 161). Butler continues by stating that “gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being” (Storey, pg. 161). Butler concludes that gender is a form of performance constituting the identity. In my personal research, I am interested in not in fan consumption but how this consumption is directly related to gender performance. I am particularly interested in understanding if the ability to be anonymous in online fantasy football changes or manipulates gender performance in any way.

    Kristin’s question concerning a non-gendered world is a very interesting one. I am not sure if it is really possible to have a completely non-gendered world. However, I believe that what we see in the world today is that people as a whole are not strictly performing gender in the static binary gender system, much as my parents might argue was the fifties. However, I would argue that gender is performed on a continuum between the two ‘believed’ universals: men and women perform masculine and feminine acts. I am very intrigued with the portrayal of the feminine female who also performs masculine acts, particularly in sports and how this affects their success. A good example for analysis might be Erin Andrews.

  7. “Is that all?”

    In Betty Friedan’s seminal book, The Feminine Mystique, she devotes a part of the book to what Friedan deems, “the problem that has no name.” The problem, according to Friedan lies in societal expectations of women to fulfill themselves through marriage and reproduction. In other words, society reiterated woman’s domestic role. In order to retain her femininity, woman sought no independence or increased opportunity, while women seeking high-profile careers must be neurotic or unhappy. That is, because woman’s happiness lies within her own gender-identification societal reinforcements of “woman” dominated this period. As Simone de Beauvoir woman is objectified as the “other.” That is, this categorization leaves women as idle dependents relying on men as grantors and the prime reason for woman’s existence.
    The ideal woman of Friedan’s day embodied the suburban housewife. These ideal women were healthy, beautiful and fortunate enough to avoid the drudgery of childbirth and domestic duties due to technological “advances.”
    Kitchens became the woman’s domain. Leaving the domestic sphere was rare unless the woman was acting upon the behalf of her children or husband. That is, the domestic realm constituted the life of woman. As Friedan summarizes woman’s attitude toward this ideal as, “I want something more than my husband and my children and my home” (Freidan, 364).
    While idealized white womanhood consisted of virtues such as, piety, deference, domesticity, passionlessness, chastity, cleanness and fragility, society painted a grimmer picture of African American females’ sexual identification. Specifically, society viewed these women as primitive, lustful, seductive, physically strong, domineering, unwomanly and dirty. Despite such negative images, African-American scholars have reiterated the same stereotypes and ultimately conformed to white patriarchal norms, effectively presenting the African-American female as culturally inferior. This illustration posits the question of homosexual African-American women.

    Sexual Identification: Biological or Learned?
    In Jeffery Weeks, Sexual Identification Is a Strange Thing he identifies four primordial characteristic stages proposed by Plummer. First, one becomes aware that he or she is possibly different called, “sensitization.” Then during “signification” one recognizes developing meanings. “subculturization” then takes place when one recognizes one’s own self through others. Finally, “stabilization” finalizes the sequence whereby one fully accepts his or her feelings and way of life (Weeks, 559). Behaviors largely regulate one’s identity as they serve as an external source through which others may classify that individual. Like behavior, a person’s looks also aide in identifying an individual. However, one must question whether “identities” in the sexual context are innate or if they are conditioned as one becomes a product of the culture in which it exists. As Judith Butler states in her article, Imitation and Gender Insubordination, “The prospect of being anything, even for pay, always produced in me a certain anxiety” (Butler, 562) .Butler, a lesbian, further defends her uncertainty stating, “That is not to say that I will not appear at political occasions under the sign of a lesbian, but that I would like to have it permanently unclear precisely that sign signifies” (Butler 563).

  8. As I read Kristen’s post and explore the concepts explained in this week’s readings, I wonder why anyone would want to live in a world without gender. Just as we discussed in class a couple of weeks ago, the concept of a genderless society is similar to one without race where people claim they do not see color. Personally, I am quite happy living in a gendered society. Yes, it makes things difficult at times, but I like being a girl (as opposed to a biological female). I like performing my gender with dresses, high heels, and make-up. I like the power that comes with that performance. Some may ask, “What power?” but, the girls know what I am talking about. Women may not have officially recognized power and we may take a backseat to men in a lot of different arenas, but when it comes down to it, we all know who holds the power in heterosexual interpersonal relationships. It is women. So, while I can appreciate feminist perspectives and I think it is important to read and analyze texts from different viewpoints, I cannot imagine why anyone would want to live in a society where differences are not recognized. It is true that there is much work to be done in recognizing difference without judgment, but it is our differences that make us unique. It is our differences that give women “a particular relationship to popular culture that is different from men’s” (Storey, 136). Men might have many more opportunities which are not afforded to women, but no one can deny the power that comes to women when they perform their gender.

  9. Kristen poses the question, “can a world really function without gender? And if so, how would this effect the existence of other ideologies such as race and class in culture?” A friend of mine, Jeffery Middleton attempted to create such a world in his plays. The idea he had was to remove gender from the characters. The characters would either be called person1 / person2 or have gender neutral names, Jesse, Casey, Jordan, etc. The characters lived out experiences such as love, struggles, and accomplishment. These roles could be filed by anyone in any combination male/female, male/male, or female/female. The purpose was to demonstrate that the performance of humanity could be universalized. Judith Butler states, “gender is not a performance that a prior subject elects to do, but gender is performative in the sense that it constitutes as an effect the very subject it appears to express. It is a compulsory performance in the sense that acting out of line with heterosexual norms brings with it ostracism, punishment, and violence, not to mention the transgressive pleasures produce by those very prohibitions” (Social Theory, p 570). Jeffery’s plays seem to explore where the compulsory aspects of gender is located. Is it in a person’s name? Can you challenge the dominant ideology of heterosexual norms by taking away the gendered names and demonstrating that human desires and fears are at some level universal? As we discussed before in class, people might need to first imagine changes before they can enact them in real life. As the title of Kristen’s post states “Imagining” a world without gender might be where it starts. A play, television show, or movie where the gender of the actors can be interchanged but the roles remain the same could hit at the heart of what I view as the premise of some of Butler’s arguments. Must the role of husband or father always be filled by a male? Where do the performative aspects of human interaction lay and can they be re-imagined? If we can answer this question, then maybe we could move on to the other ideologies Kristen questioned, race and class.

  10. First, forgive me if this post reads more like a random rant than a well developed scholarly comment. I'm sitting in an airport in Southern California preparing to board my flight. The idea of biological sex as a natural logical distinction is accepatable because there is a diffrence between the sexes. However there are varying degrees of biological sex between male and female. I remember reading the articles "The Five Sexes" and "The Five Sexes Revisited" and it gave me a different perspective on the subject of biological sex. (the author's name escapes me at the moment)

    Gender on the other hand is a social construction that is ideological than natural. As Judith Butler says gender is "performed". This understanding of gender can be recognized as nurture more than nature. What is essentially understood as masculine or feminine is based on history and culture and varies depending on the culture and history of it. To answer the question, if we view gender for what it is, a social construction, then we can better understand its fluidity. Men and women can perform the socially constructed acts in different ways but biologically speaking, men don't give birth.

    The Jhally documentary was intriguing because it raised questions about the role of female sexuality and male fantasy in music videos. Women and the objectification of thier bodies as well as the relationship of men to these bodies tells us a great deal about how power functions in society. Female bodies are controlled as objects for male consumption with little or no regard for their personhood outside of sex. This is an extreme example played out in Western popular culture. The antithesis of this is the burqa where all is covered except the face. In both instances men are controlling womens sexuality because all human life is born through a womb. This is why it is pertinent to control a woman's sexuality because the reproduction of subjects in an economy must be regulated by the power structure. Finally, I'm posting this upon landing in Memphis but i will end by noting that we can tell much about a culture's values by the images of female sexuality in the culture.

  11. I doubt the possibility of a genderless world. Our culture tells us constantly that there are distinct differences between men and women which extend beyond genetics. Melody's thoughts about the biblical heritage of gender roles and female subordination are astute. The Dreamworlds video presents a provocative case study of the pervasive "pornographic imagination" or "male gaze" (as defined by Laura Mulvey). The video's position is interesting because it doesn't completely condemn the sexism of music videos. In fact, it says that some objectification would be acceptable, if it were balanced within a multifaceted portrayal of females. I agree with Jhally on that point because trying to prevent or remove all objectification would be more or less impossible, given the plethora of psychoanalysis declaring that our brains and minds are wired to think about sex. I also agree with Carolyn that it can be enjoyable to perform gender roles. I'm a man. Occasionally I like to watch sports, drink beer, talk politics, talk shop, lift heavy things, and look at boobs. My girlfriend is a woman. Occasionally she likes to go shopping, read poetry, cook dinner, dress up, and look hot. These activities aren't all we do, nor do they define us completely. They are part of our identities and part of our relationship. And like Carolyn points out, the woman really does wield the power in our relationship. I "wear the pants" but my girlfriend picks them out.

  12. Hello class. For the second week in a row, I am late :-( Although there is no excuse for my lateness, I have a reason: my computer crashed, the library is closed, my roommates computer is old/shitty, and my last resort (my parents) are out of town with both of their laptops. This will be a short post but I will add an addendum later on tonight.

    RE: the section WATCHING DALLAS in Storey, I found this incredibly prescient, especially when one considers how people watch similarly watch reality TV (Jersey Shore) in a similar fashion (an aside: I can't believe that 52 % of the Dutch watched that dribble; I thought they were more refined). Ien Ang points to the four types of letters he received from people who watched Dallas: 1. haters, 2. ironical viewers, 3. fans, and 4. poplulists. Out of these, I find that most people I encounter who watch trash/reality TV or movies approach it from an ironic level with a wink and a nod. When I was living in Austin, TX, most film buffs in the town had a refined appreciation of crappy grindhouse, slasher, action and comedies -- usually awfully produced, acted,and directed: basically every facet of the film. Though this method of viewing may differ vastly with the romantic novel reader, as And points out from a letter he received: "Do you know why I like watching it? I think it's because those problems and intriguhe big and little pleasures and troubles occur in our own lives too..." (Storey 148).

    A passage from Storey where he cites Janice Winship: "Desire is generated for something more than the everyday, yet it can only be accomplished by what is for most women an everyday activity -- shopping. What is ultimately being sold in the fictions of women's magazines, in editorial or advertisements, fashion and home furnishing items, cookery and cosmetics, is successful and therefore PLEASURABLE femininity. Follow THIS practical advice and be a better [wife, mother, woman]. The problem with all this from a feminist perspective is that it is always constructed around mythical INDIVIDUAL woman, situated OUTSIDE the influence of powerful social and cultural structures and constraints" (Storey 154). Or as Winship later expounds: individual solutions vs fictional collectivities. Though I agree with her assessment and though I also agree that women's magazines generally are similarly constituted, I also find these methods of attraction are vastly prevalent in Men's fare (MEN'S HEALTH, ESPN MAG., etc.). I could also cite Tyler Durden's assesment of the state of men in FIGHT CLUB as a strong polemic against such commercialization of men and manipulation through advertisment. This said, I still find Winship correct in that the desire to be a better WHATEVER operates to help women fill an emotional vacuum in their lives.

    I will have some more interesting thoughts later...

  13. PART II

    RE: Question # 1: I think this is a question that is impossible to answer, much like imagining a world without: religion, poverty, war, class, economies, social structure, etc. If anything I choose to latch onto Sylvia Walby's dual-system theory. I think this is a concept that will yield the best results. As to the second part of this question: I think if the importance of gender is neutralized, then race and class will most likely fall in line. If we accept the idea that a patriarchal society is destroyed and that women are freed, then these other constraints will probably fall as well for they are similarly constructed on separation of power and authority as will as structure.

    RE: Question # 2: I don't necessarily think that there is anything natural about biological sex. I only think that there are norms which are primitive minds have only been able to grasp - woman and man - up to this point in history. I'd say that a concept of human nature that is natural is violence. I think that it is not harmonious to natural order but it is natural form humans.

    RE Question # 3: As I mentioned in my first post, I think that the way feminist culture is sold to women could just as easily be made into a corollary for men. One criticism that could be made against masculinity in culture could be the idea that it deceives men into thinking that there is one ideal form of masculinity. This pattern could be used as an argument that by narrowing down the ideal man, we narrow down the ideal woman, lesbian woman or gay man.