Finding Avenues for Reproductive Justice Education Post-Grad

GSS 101 has absolutely opened my eyes to many new frameworks for thinking and more comprehensive and fair language for communicating. Discovering the significance of intersectionality in all areas of gender and sexuality studies has been especially eye-opening and helpful for my knowledge and actions moving forward. My final literature review covered reproductive rights for minority women and how their experiences completely differ from white women, but that women of color groups have gone largely ignored and not given credit for their activism and progress in the fight for all-encompassing reproductive justice.

As GSS 101 has provided me with more comprehensive knowledge and more useful tools for speaking and acting on GSS topics, I realize that a lot of people go without the education they deserve, so I’m looking into areas where I can combine my interest in education and new interest in the fight for reproductive justice after graduation. Outside the class, I currently have a length pro-con list for two different cities I could possibly live in after graduation: Chicago and Charlotte. I’m going to add to the list by looking into a few different organizations in each city that I could get involved with.

At the top of my list in Chicago, the Chicago Foundation for Women targets the disparity in options for or access to health due to violence and poverty. The organization seeks out women in communities of need and on the margin, brings together women who have the power and ability to come up with solutions and raise money through grants and other avenues, and then implements these solutions through the combination of minds and funding. This sounds somewhat like consulting for marginalized women and their families, which might be appropriate extremely appropriate for me since I’ll be going into healthcare consulting.

Finding specific organizations in Charlotte proved a lot more difficult, but I think I would start by looking in the NC chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women) and working my into the community from there. NOW stands firm that reproductive rights are more than a matter of choice and supports providing more access to education and health options for all women, especially minority women who are disproportionately affected. While NOW’s efforts seem more implicated with law and policy change, I would use the network to find more ground-level opportunities to get involved with education for women.

I’m really excited to discover this new passion, something I had always inherently cared about but never took the time to better understand and share with others. I don’t think adding these to my pro-con list will affect my final living decision, but it does show me that I will try to make it a part of my life regardless of where I end up in the states.

 

Exerting Power through Porn: “Smutty Little Movies” Book Review

“If it exists, there is a porn of it,” claims the infamous internet meme. This simple statement provides a lot more value than perhaps its intended shocking effect, which we can see in Peter Alilunas’s Smutty Little Movies when adult content disseminates into any new avenue of technology or thought. The academic monograph examines both the adult video and the societal struggle to regulate and contain pleasure as pornography transitioned from the public to private sphere, new technologies developed, and capitalism and the traditional family model confronted sexual pleasure and a lack of social control. Alilunas gathers research and evidence from a wide spectrum of sources, mostly non-academic in nature, to analyze the codependency of the home video industry and adult film.

Alilunas introduces Smutty Little Movies with several key themes and questions surrounding the movement of explicit material from the public to the private spheres (especially from the big screen and the 1970s Golden Age of adult film to private adult video) and how pornography could be defined as an thought structure, allowing dominant classes to exert power in controlling what was considered “pornographic” and off-limits or inappropriate in any way to other classes or groups. The book is structured into four distinct parts that are tied together through the pornography-as-power ideology. Alilunas first chronologically examines changing technological, cultural, and industrial perspectives, beginning with the invention of the Panoram, a visual jukebox found in public places like bars and drugstores, that eventually turned into a “Solo-Vue” with curtains or walls and displayed images of female nudity. As the Panoram provided more privacy in public, motels, in realizing the economic potential of showing adult films, became the liminal space between the public theater and the private home. The underground film piracy economy was key to this transition since adult content was still made for the big screen only, though some motel owners did start filming their own content. Peep-show booths like the Panoram and motel viewing were outdone by George Atkinson who eventually became known as the father of home video rental after he realized that he could provide adult videos in the security of the home for a major profit. At this point, quantity of adult content became much more important than the quality, and so Alilunas argues that capitalism became one of the driving factors for the quiet and private spread of pornography.

Magazines were also a major marketing arm for the adult video industry. Alilunas looks at a variety of publications. Initially the content was the product, meaning magazines focused on sampling of still images and stories. When Adult Video News (AVN) entered the industry, a strategy for quality and taste further pushed pornography into the private sphere. Rather than sampling, AVN acted almost as newsletter foreplay for the actual videos and presented the idea and context rather than the content. This push for seeking out quality content also further reinforces the problematic gender narrative in which women must be “protected” but also might only be interested in “tasteful” pornography. Alilunas goes on to describe two key women in the rise of the adult video industry, though he acknowledges that neither received the credit they truly deserved, which proves how it is “a male-dominated industry built on women’s bodies” (130). Ginger Lynn made her mark as an adventurous girl-next-door actress around whom the Vivid Video company’s marketing strategy was built, though the male owners did not later acknowledge their combined effort. Candida Royalle stepped behind the camera in order produce real change for women and focused on reestablishing female control rather than submission in sexual pleasure. However, even Royalle’s own production company was backed by male investment. Further, she reinforced the pleasure-in-quality narrative, falling into the same categorical traps that places value on individual pleasure. Finally, Alilunas explores external regulation of adult video, which he claims as being rooted in a fear of changing societal morals and the disruption of the traditional family unit. Regulation took place both legally (e.g. investigations, trials, governmental studies) and through grassroots movements (e.g. religious groups, antiporn feminist groups, and corporate video rental companies refusal to stock adult content).

Alilunas ultimately concludes that although adult video saved the adult film industry, it is only one player in the ongoing discourses of power and controlling pleasure. Whether explicit external regulation or decentralized and constantly shifting discourses around what pornography should be, there will always be something new to discuss, reconcile, and push beyond, such as the Internet, which viewers of the Panoram would not have been able to fathom.  

Peter Alilunas, an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the University of Oregon, grew up in America in the 1970s and 80s, a time when pornography seemed to be taking over the nation. He explains though that his memories of pornographic images and encounters were fleeting and confusing, which is reflective of his later discovery that academia surrounding the dissemination of pornography is severely lacking. Alilunas’s background in Media Studies is especially relevant since he argues that pornography was a crucial part of the home video’s history (and vice versa) rather than just a consequence of the home video. He received the Society for cinema and Media Studies Dissertation Award of Distinction for Smutty Little Movies in 2014.

Alilunas, despite the lack of literature in pornographic studies and the adult film industry, works to fill in at least some of those gaps on a broad scale, which is also his greatest strength in creating Smutty Little Movies. Rather than pulling together academic content, Alilunas investigates history of the adult video industry and the context surrounding the proliferation of pornography over the years. He is not so media-heavy that he analyzes specific pieces of media but rather pulls from a variety of contextual sources to understand the motivation, process, and outcome of technological, cultural, and industrial changes. More specifically, he pulls from catalogues, magazines, brochures, advertisements, autobiographies, blog posts, fan websites, newspapers, zoning laws, court rulings, etc. to form his own understanding of how society affected pornography and vice versa.

Smutty Little Movies acknowledges many areas in which it could go into more depth, such as queer and race dynamics or even further criticism of problematic gender narratives, but as Alilunas notes at the beginning, his “decision is an effort to limit the scope and scale of the research to a particular industrial history that has not yet received much scholarly interest while simultaneously occupying a massive historical footprint” (31). Having said that though, his ultimate arguments about the power of pornography and societal control could be further grounded in theory, such as Foucault’s thought on the relationship between power and oppression.

As intended, Smutty Little Movies fills in a wide gap in the vast pornographic history, though it’s important to keep in mind that it’s only one gap of many. Observing cultural thought through technology and industry provides a fascinating view of how we are able to both gain control and lose control of our own individual identities. This book is especially relevant for those who grew up in the so-called Golden Age of adult film in the 1970s and the rise of the home video in the 1980s. This study is also important for current college-level students as gender and sexuality disciplines expand and open us up to hidden narratives in our past.

Works Cited:

Alilunas, Peter. Smutty Little Movies. Oakland: University of California, 2016. Print.

When Humor Reinforces Pre-Existing Social Structures Rather Than Satirizing Them

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“9 Non-threatening Leadership Strategies for Women,” was a heavily shared graphic article during the summer of 2016. Sarah Cooper published the article on her satirical “office humor blog” known as The Cooper Review, which generates a variety of cartoons, listicles, and videos under the descriptor tagline, “Funny because it’s true.” However, as I dig into the complexities of the article’s simplistic assumptions, this tagline becomes less ironic and more revealing in how the media it promotes is actively harmful in reinforcing particular norms and binaries.

The graphic article begins with an introduction that suggests the audience (females in business work environments), the antagonist (males and “the patriarchy”), and the purpose (how to alter female leadership style in order to avoid negative perception from men): “In this fast-paced business world, female leaders need to make sure they’re not perceived as pushy, aggressive or competent. One way to do that is to alter your leadership style to account for the (sometimes) fragile male ego.” The full introduction, brimming with sarcasm and humor, sets the reader up for the satire to come: “Should men accept powerful women and not feel threatened by them? Yes. Is that asking too much? IS IT? Sorry I didn’t mean to get aggressive there.” The piece goes on to present nine graphics, each with its own caption and “strategy” for women in the workplace. This framework alludes to the “corporate manual” and variations of leadership strategy guides in the corporate world. These guides permeate the business world in the form of books, magazines, online publications, and are sometimes specified towards women, such as Levo League, an online platform dedicated to providing resources, advice, and connections to businesswomen.
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Each of the graphics in the article is a colored square framed by the article’s name “9 Non-threatening Leadership Strategies for Women” on top and
The Cooper Review branding on the bottom. Between that framing, bold black letters spell out “#1” through “#9” and range from simple actions (e.g. “sharing your ideas” and “emailing a request”) to responding to external incidents (e.g. “someone steals your idea” and “hearing a sexist comment”). Each square is split by a black line, the left side title “THREATENING” highlighted black and enclosed in sarcastic quotes, while the right side title “NON-THREATENING” is not highlighted and is not enclosed in quotes, making it more approachable. Underneath each title is a simple gray scale drawing of a woman or a woman with a man and a text bubble above the woman’s head. The only differences between the left and right sides of each graphic are the characters’ facial expressions as linked to the text (“threatening” vs. “non-threatening”), showing that the “non-threatening” responses are supposedly more polite and happier for all those involved. The left to right transition, imitating the normal English reading pattern, also subconsciously implies which situation is the “right” way for women to act in order to be respected by men.

Despite the biting sarcastic humor of the graphics and their respective captions, the graphic article makes several assumptions that detract from its explicit attempt to undermine particular gender societal expectations. Most glaringly obvious throughout the nine graphics is the reinforcement of the gender binary and gender stereotypes as well as a complete lack of racial and body size diversity. Cooper’s article is fixated on women versus men and their respective perceptions in a corporate work environment. Every “woman” has long hair (either white or black), white skin, is thin, and wears some sort of blouse or suit jacket. Almost every graphic also includes the image of a “man,” also white with either white, gray, or black hair and a collared shirt and/or tie. In promoting such homogeneous images though, the graphic article reinforces a deeper problem of norms in the corporate world. The graphic images only present two categories of gender identity, one type of body size, one race, and most likely one social class, which perpetuates the same normature that the aforementioned “corporate guides” already promote. By showing one type of person, Cooper falls right into line with the large marketing structures that subconsciously promote homogeneous images and what is acceptable in the corporate world.

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Cooper’s #whitefeminism mission leaves out several gender and racial identities, but she also goes further as to pinpoint and use male stereotypes. For example, “#6 When You Already Knew That,” depicts a “threatening” standpoint in which the female character tells the male character that she has already explained something to him. The “non-threatening” side presents the woman saying she would love to hear him explain it again. In the caption below, Cooper states “Men love explaining things.” While she might intend to present men as stereotypes in defiance of the generalized representations of women, such a statement doesn’t lead to a productive outcome for her assumed female audience. In breaking down expectations of women in the workplace, she builds up and reinforces stereotypes and expectations of men. In the last graphic, “#9 When You Disagree,” the only change between “threatening” and “non-threatening” is the fake mustache on the female character. She claims that wearing a mustache makes you “more man-like.” But what does “man-like” even mean? Having facial hair? “Growing a pair”? Although Cooper intends this comment as a joke, there’s also an unfortunate underlying assumption about what masculinity even means. But, her assumption that men receive more respect in a work environment due to their biology also reveals a subtler point about gender characteristics and perceptions. As we discussed in class, butch and femme characteristics receive different treatment outside the LGTBQ+ community, and perhaps more masculine qualities (i.e. butch) receive a greater degree of respect in the office environment. Studies have shown a counter-intuitive wage gap in which gay men receive a smaller salary than straight men while lesbian women receive a larger salary than straight women. Not only does the graphic article present the characters as cisgender, they also appear heterosexual, which brings us back to another corporate normature that Cooper sustains. One of our takeaways from the Wilchins piece discussed in class was that with sexual queerness comes a level of gender queerness and vice versa. Meanwhile, the characters in Cooper’s graphics seem to all fit the socially constructed gender and sexual norms that the typical corporate guide would also promote, whether intentionally or not.

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Cooper sets out to critique and disrupt the man/woman dynamic in the corporate workplace and model that has been promoted by countless publications, advertisers, and media. She focuses on women’s oppression in the workplace and uses a male/female inversion to prove the lack of respect women receive. However, this graphic article fails to act as a didactic piece and comes across as only entertainment because she only inverts the heteronormative male/female relationship and reproduces other homogeneous racial, sexual, and class expectations in the corporate world. If she wanted it to be more than a piece of entertainment, highlighting the intersectionality of oppression in the workplace would ultimately teach and flip her audience’s expectations of who really does work in the business world.