From Theory to Praxis: New insights and a new lens through which I will examine the world

 

In class, we studied a wide range of topics in a very short amount of time, but there were certain topics that stood out to me and personally affected the way I now see things. The first and the second week we looked at sexuality and gender which are both components in the identity of a person. I think The biggest take away from that for me was looking at how society has socially constructed rigid norms to which people have stuck to, and that there is a strong resistance when it comes to wanting to push back on societal norms. It has taught me to look at people differently in a sense where I stop making assumptions about people and making generalizations. There are more than two genders and the world does not fit into a spectrum based on binary identification. There are many ways people identify and compartmentalizing and categorizing them between one or other is not a good way to look at things. There is the expression that things are not just black or white, and it is very true when it comes to people’s identities.

I have learned that marginalization also is intersectional, and because of that I feel like I better am able to understand people and their struggles. It was helpful that there was some intersections in this class that I could connect to my child development class in psychology as well as with my Afro-Latin American course. It was good because I was able to use the lens I acquired in the GSS course in those classes to work past any biases I had concerning social constructs.

This class made me think about how important it is to learn to look at things through a GSS lens, and I wish I would have had exposure to this kind of thinking when I was younger, so I connected it to an Idea I have for my summer job plans. I want to work with middle school children to help expose them early on to some of the things we learned in class because I think it is important for children to start acknowledging certain issues from earlier on.

I went to a KIPP school from sixth grade until my twelfth grade year.  KIPP schools focus on helping low income students in underserved neighborhoods get to and through college.  In middle school they require for student to take summer school courses which includes taking two classes on core studies and one elective course. This year I wanted to assist in planning one of the elective courses with one of the teachers at the middle school. There is a class focused on female empowerment and I feel like within that class there are various topics from our class that can be incorporated to the curriculum of that program in particular.

Starting with our week on bodies, ads, and Fat studies. This is a topic in class I found particularly interesting because it did challenge a lot of my preconceived notions and it changed the way that I look at media now. Having the students break a lot of their preconceived notions on body issues as well as challenging them to have conversations about body positivity and self acceptance at the middle school age would be beneficial because it would help create a certain mindset about themselves very early on. This is one of the things I gained from the class, and I wish I would have been exposed to this earlier which is why I would find it a helpful experience for the KIPP students as a summer elective course.

The goal would be for them to view themselves differently than the way society has taught them to. I hope it would serve to empower the students and I feel like it fits in with the mission of the KIPP program as well because they want their students to be better prepared for college and a lot of these topics are themes that occur in a lot of the classes I have taken here at Davidson.

The Politics of Our Selves

 

9780231136228

Society is built on learned behaviors based on the values of the time. The most impactful source of power comes from social constructs. Social constructs start to have an effect on people as soon as we begin to identify as an individual being. A child will start to look at social queues in order to begin to form their individual personality, and a lot of it is based on what they are able to observe others doing. We mimic behaviors in order to belong to the group. As children, it is very easy to take to heart a lot of what we are told, and there is little speculation on why things are the way they are for children.  The autonomy levels of a person keep expanding as we get older because we are better able to think of ourselves in separated ways. Amy Allen, in her work, will take a deeper look into the autonomy of subjects and frame it along some of Foucault’s theories.

The politics of the self is centered around synthesizing the ideas of many theories. The first thing in the introduction of the is Foucault. The title of the book is taken from one of Foucault quotes; in the quote from Foucault, he is talking about the manner in which to understand the self, there is less of a need to understand the positive aspects of the self, but rather the way in which outside influences such as history and technology have come to affect the politics of our selves. Amy Allen, in her work, she works to analyze the power of subjection and looking at autonomy as a force of self-construction. The book is an intersection of feminism and critical theories. Along with the theoretical accounts, she looks into analyzing the subordination caused by race, class, and sexuality. Her approach critiques these subordinations and considers the social changes that need to come about in order for the changes to be accomplished. In the introduction she states she wishes to create a “Framework that illuminates both aspects of the politics of the self” (Allen, para 4). The two aspects she is talking about in regards to the politics of the self are: power and autonomy (Allen, Para 4).

Allen is a Professor of Philosophy and Women’s and Gender Studies at Dartmouth College. She has done some of her work focusing on how gender subordination must not only encompass race, class, sexuality and gender but must also confront issues dealing with social structures and the effects of colonialism (DesAutels). She brings in a very philosophical approach to the way in which she evaluates the politics of the self and how they are built in a very intersectional manner. The way she writes the book reflects her way of interconnecting ideas because she creates a discourse among many of the different theories relating to feminism, sexuality, and race among other things. Power and autonomy play a big role in the development of social structures because power is the driving force, while autonomy relates to the development of the self within the complex power structures.

A lot of her arguments are integrated with looking at a lot of Foucault’s ideas. What we looked at in class was Foucault’s “repressive hypothesis.” The repressive hypothesis believes that since the rise of the bourgeoisie in the Victorian era, any outflow of simply pleasurable activities has been frowned upon. As a result, sex has been confined to more private spaces and was restricted in open discourses. The only practical and accepted manner of display of sexual discourse took place between a husband and a wife. Sex outside these confines is not simply prohibited, but repressed. That is, there is not simply an effort to prevent extra-marital sex, but also an effort to make it unspeakable and unthinkable. Discourse on sexuality is confined to marriage. The power structure in his idea relates to how the book analyzes the subordination that is caused by repressive discourse. The autonomy of the person is therefore hindered because of the restrictive nature of the power of social norms and ideologies.

Discourse is important to Foucault because to him, language and knowledge are closely linked to power. Speech and writing are not simply the communication of facts that occurs in a vacuum, but instead, they give momentum to ideas and criticism. In her second chapter, she evaluates Foucault’s relationship with Kant’s work. “What Foucault is calling for is a critique of critique, which means not only a criticism of Kant’s project for the way in which it closes off the very opening for thought that it had created”(Allen, ch 2) She evaluates the different theorist through the lens of Foucault. In this, she is trying to relate the arguments by saying that Kant’s writing transcends and helps him shape the notion of subjectivity. To Foucault, Subjectivity is a means to explore the conditions in which subjects are created via discourse and sociocultural conditions. These conditions allow for an analysis of the self in order to evaluate the modern self. What is helpful in her evaluations is how she brings together the ideas jumping back and forth between the different theorist in order to create an argument of her own. In her evaluation, a lot of the theories, such as the one mentioned above, are in discourse with each other in helping to expand the idea of the subjectivity and how people are created through various elements. When she mentions power in parallel to Foucault she ties it into the relationship it has with the repressive hypothesis. She mentions in chapter three how power is a relation of repression, her aim with this is to reconstruct autonomy and argue about how it extends to power and subjectivity (Allen, Ch 3).

One of the things I liked about the book that makes it have a strong argument is the intersection of the different works of theory she incorporates into her evaluation of power. The book has a very introspective form to writing. It doesn’t directly ask the reader to look at themselves through her personal theory alone, but instead, it synthesizes a lot of the different theories of subjectivity that help create the individual in relation to power and autonomy. The points she makes are easy to understand, because before starting to read there are subheadings within the chapter to help guide you to her main arguments. Having the sub-headings allows for her work to follow a flow and move from the different ideas of power, subordination, and autonomy.

There was a lot of theories we have not discussed yet in class, but it was interesting to be exposed to a wider world other thoughts regarding critical theories. What I think is a point of improvement would be, on the basis of no being as familiar with all of the different theories, would be to give a quick summary as to the main points of the theories. In the book, she talks about the different theories and how they are related to each other, but that is assuming you are familiar with all of their theories and have a deeper understanding of them. If her goal would be for a wider range of people to understand her work, framing the theories before going into deeper analysis of them and making connections would make it easier for someone like me to better understand a lot of her arguments. She does go into the contextualization of Habermas and Foucault at the end of her book, but I feel like the contextualization should occur earlier on in the work. Her points on power would be much clearer with the context.

The book was very thought-provoking especially in the way it exposed me to more of the critical theories. I liked looking at the relationships between power and autonomy and their intersections along with race class and gender. The book included theories I had not been exposed to, so I would say some of the things I read went over my head. What I did understand I thought was interesting. I think this book would be better enjoyed by people who are focused on gender and sexuality, or even philosophy. For someone looking to learn about the different theories, the book would not be as great. Her work on Foucault was definitely interesting, and if you would like to learn about a more in-depth analysis of the repressive hypothesis and how it ties in with power and autonomy this is a good book.

Citations

Allen, Amy. The Politics of Our Selves : Power, Autonomy, and Gender in Contemporary Critical Theory.New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. Web. New Directions in Critical Theory; New directions in critical theory.

DesAutels, Peggy. “Amy Allen: November 2013 – APA Committee on the Status of Women.” Amy Allen: November 2013 – APA Committee on the Status of Women. Committee on the Status of Women, 10 Nov. 2013. Web. 25 Oct. 2016. <http://www.apaonlinecsw.org/home/woman_philosopher/amyallennovember2013>.

Fighting Against Conformity

In the TV show, Orange is the New Black Carrie Black also known as “Boo” is an inmate at Litchfield women’s prison. Her character can be described as outspoken because she is never afraid to say what she feels or to be the way she is. In the episode “Finger in the Dyke” there is a lot that is learned about Boo. The title implies the episode will focus on the sexuality and the way Boo identifies. It is a very graphic name, but it relates to the way the character behaves because those two aspects of her are very important in the way she presents herself in the show; Boo is a very complex character and she depicts one of the many sexual and gender identities that exist. She describes herself as a Butch Lesbian. She has the word Butch tattooed on her arm and she feels it is a really big part of her identity and something she has had to fight for. This show has a lot of underlying messages in general about issues dealing with gender and sexuality, but the scene I wanted to focus on was on season 3 episode 4. It is a scene where Carrie Black “Boo” is young and her mother wants her to wear a dress, but she refuses to wear it. The scene starts off with a very unhappy looking teenage Boo wearing a dress. Her mother in the background seems hopeful that her daughter will finally listen to her and stop dressing in ways that make her stand out. The mother then goes on to say that she shouldn’t try and go against the expectations of society because that would bring the wrong kind of attention. What this suggests about society is that there is a set of structures dictating the behaviors and characteristics of each of the sexes, and to stray away from the expectations set will only result in judgment and ostracism. In society, there is a clear gender binary that has dictated the way males and females have to look like and behave like. The mother then walks away angrily as the father comes in to help her “deal” with the situation and try to convince Boo to wear the dress. The father takes a different approach to “dealing with” Carrie’s opposition to wearing the dress. There are a couple of things he says that help with understanding the way people view those who fall outside the gender norms. He pleads Carrie to just wear the dress to make her mother happy. What can be interpreted from this is how conformity plays a role in society. In the scene, the imagery is very strong because it shows just how intense it can be to not conform. You have the mother who is getting really upset and calling her daughter a bitch because she doesn’t want to fit into the mold that her mother is trying to force her into. Boo is very visibly upset, and she also refuses to give in right away. People conform to the gender norms they don’t always identify with because they want to stay in the boundaries set by society in order to keep everyone happy and prevent conflicts. The father then goes to talk about her teenage hormones. What he is implying from this is he thinks what she is going through is a phase because of her hormones as a teenager. He is being dismissive of the way she feels. Boo expresses this to him because she brings up how she thinks it is not a good enough reason to change the way she is in order to make other people happy.

This is something people who fall outside of the “traditional gender norms” have to deal with. Overall, the scene tries to argue how there are pre-set gender norms that people are expected to fit into. Society has built this idea of what a young girl is supposed to look like, and if the person does not fit the mold, like wearing a dress on picture day, then there is a lot of judgment directed at her. In the reading “Female Masculinity” by Judith Halberstam she talks about being a tomboy; in society being a tomboy comes with difficulties because it is seen as a phase and once the girl goes on to her pubescent stage, then the pressure to conform to the rules of femininity are forced upon her by the people in society and, like in Boo’s case, her parents.  The scene is especially powerful because it brings to the forefront the way family can be at the center of trying to push people into conforming to what society wants. One one hand it is because of the concern that they will be judged by others, but it is also on some level because they also believe it is the way things should be.

The intention of the clip is to show the oppressive nature of gender conformity. The scene focuses on how there is an expectation for young girls to be complacent and to behave in a certain way. They have to wear dresses and have to not want to stand out. The mother mentions how there is a bad kind of attention that Boo is trying to get is not the “good kind.” She brings up the way other kids will make fun of her and that plays into the role of how people are forced to conform because of the way other people will treat them. A lot of what happened in the scene was touched upon in the documentary “Three to Infinity: Beyond Two Genders.” There is this idea that forces people into these two binary roles in society when in fact peoples’ likes and dislikes can go beyond that. People will identify differently and that makes people uncomfortable because it is something they do not see often because there are so many social constructs around who people have to be according to the standards set by society. Anyone who doesn’t meet the criteria for what it means to be feminine or what it is to be masculine is looked at weird because people don’t know how to categorize them. Boo is “Butch” and this identity takes on different characteristics and intersects masculine and feminine traits. The intersection defies the binary spectrum which is something people are not used to seeing, therefore leading to judgments against her. It is an effective in portraying the struggles of gender conformity because it shows the strain on relationships and the anguish of the teens trying to push against the behavioral expectations of their gender.

The target audience would be the younger generation. The show does have a lot of younger women as the main characters, but it is still graphic enough to not have the target audience be young teenagers. This affects how the show is written because it can be more explicit with the way it tries to explain things as well as it can focus on a variety of issues that women have to face. This is important because the show does expose the viewers to stories they may have never thought about before. The show does go beyond the plot of piper chapman in order to increase awareness into the lives of the other women in the prison. The episode. in particular, is trying to make people understand that there are a lot of limits to the traditional binary roles and that there are people who identify outside of them. People have to fight all of their lives to justify who they are if they do not fall into one of the two categories designated by society, and they have to put up with judgments constantly while trying to defend who they are. It is necessary to expand the spectrum of identification and move away from the binary in order to understand gender identity and expression, as well as sexuality, come in various forms.

 

Works Cited

“Finger in the Dyke.” Orange is the New Black. Netflix. 12 June 2015. Web.

Halberstam, Judith. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke UP, 1998. Print.