From Theory to Praxis: Masculine Ideals in Male Athletics

One of the topics that really stood out for me from our GSS class was the discussion of body image. What especially resonated with me was when we talked about Adonis Complex and how people are concerned about their own bodies more than ever before. Since I talked about this topic in my literature review, I decided to focus on it more and apply it to my life. Being a male student-athlete, I am surrounded by an extremely heteronormative environment. It is easy to become ignorant and think that male athletics is only for heterosexual athletes because all the biggest stars are stereotypical masculine men. With the idealized image of masculinity comes the concept of muscle dysmorphia. It is a subset of the Adonis Complex that emphasizes a muscular male physique. As an athlete I feel this pressure of not only being in shape but also getting bigger even though it does not necessarily improve your performance on the court. From my personal experiences, this pressure comes from inside the team but also from outside observers.

Taking this class taught me so many new things and broadened my view of society. I think I can apply the ideas I have learned in this class to my own life and especially the athletic environment. I see gender and sexuality now as more of a spectrum rather than a binary. I am proposing a research project in which I survey several male athletic teams on campus to determine their attitudes towards masculine body image and appearance. I am interested if the perceptions of masculinity are similar across these different teams and if they differ from my personal experiences after taking this class.

Because of this class has changed my perceptions, I am excited to find out how my peers opinions will compare to those of society as a whole and my own views. This class has been a valuable experience for me and I am now much more aware of the structures and institutions that shape our society even though they may not be visible.

Fat Gay Men: Girth, Mirth, and the Politics of Stigma Reviewed

While the LGBT movement has gained more support over the last few decades, some groups in the movement still experience discrimination because of the white cisgender groups in the frontlines leaving other marginalized groups in their shadow. Inter groups suffer from intersectionality because they fall under two or more social categorizations in today’s heteronormative society. These groups are often stigmatized and have multiple issues in society. The marginalized groups in LGBT movement often look for a ways they can feel natural and comfortable. The social stigma is so strong that they usually need to get away for a period of time in order to feel confident in their bodies.Image result for fat gay men book

Jason Whitesel, an assistant professor of women’s and gender studies at Pace University, enters the stigmatized world of fat gay men in his book Fat Gay Men: Girth, Mirth, and the Politics of Stigma (2014). Whitesel becomes member of a fat gay men group called Girth & Mirth. His ethnographic study of big gay men is mostly about the Ohio chapter of Girth & Mirth club but it also discusses about the issue more widely. It is a group that provides fat gay men a safe space and support. Stories of members joining when looking for a suicide hotline number for example are really powerful. Whitesel argues that the fat gay men are indeed stigmatized in the LGBT movement because of their size and it is the main reason for their feeling of being excluded. The big men face an awful lot of discrimination and stigmatization in their everyday lives because of their large size. He explains how big gay men are often excluded from the gay community spaces because they are perceived as disgusting and unattractive because of their size. The ideal gay male body according to Whitesel is muscular and skinny. It is a big emotional hit for big gay men that they are not accepted in their own sexuality group because of their size. Whitesel also attends two national fat gay men events with the Girth & Mirth group. One of them is called the super weekend and it is held at Cabana in Oklahoma. The other event is national Convergence in Minnesota. Both of these events have a same idea of creating a safe space for big gay men in our homophobic and sizist society. They need an environment where they are not judged because of their size or sexuality.     Fat gay men are compared to other gay groups throughout the book and even though it ranks at the very bottom of the gay groups, it has a lot of similarities with a group called the bears. Bears are big gay men but their identifying feature is their hairy body type. Whereas fat gay men are seen as emasculate, bears are hairy big guys but are seen as “real men.” Whitesel mainly talks about fat gay men who are part of the Girth & Mirth group but he also talks about other fat gay men who attend the two events I mentioned earlier. Providing safe space is Girth & Mirth’s main purpose and it attacks the stigma of big men by usually gathering over coffee. The dining club method is one of the most effective ways to provide that safe space to club members because eating is the big men’s mutual interest. This works especially well because big men are usually judged when they go out to eat.

Whitesel attends two very different events as a part of his research. First he attends an event called Super Weekend. The event’s purpose is to create a fun and safe environment for big gay men or as Whitesel refers to them as Chubs. The Super Weekend is meant to make everyone feel welcome. The event is held in the largest gay resort in the Southwest in Oklahoma. The other event he attends is a national Convergence on Minnesota. The Convergence is more about promoting the big men’s status in society but it also has similar tendencies to the Super Weekend but on a different scale. Whitesel attended to both of these events as a member of Girth & Mirth club. At Super Weekend he did not reveal his researcher status because of the large group of people. He was perceived as a chaser, a term that the big men give to skinny gays who are attracted to them. At the Convergence he only told some people who he got comfortable with, that he was doing research.

The Super Weekend emphasized chubs’ role as a sexual objects. At the Cabana big men are encouraged to feel just as attractive as any other normal man, because they do not have the pressure of thin-obsessed gay community surrounding them. Partly because of this, the Super Weekend is a hypersexualized event, as we can see from a competition for the doorknob award. The doorknob award is given to the person who has had sex with the most people during the weekend. Things like this make the Super Weekend controversial. It is beneficial for big men to be able to get a weekend away where they can enjoy themselves and have fun both socially and sexually, but it can be over sexualized as well. A similar idea applies to their pool parties during the Super Weekend. When you can feel comfortable because you are with a group of big guys, you are more likely to take your shirt off as well.

The other event that Whitesel participated in was the annual Convergence of big men. It was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and had a larger number of participants than the Super Weekend. The Convergence’s purpose was mainly to improve big gay men’s status in the society. It also offered carnival atmosphere, but it was a lot more official than the Super Weekend. Whitesel talks how the class distinction among the participants at Super Weekend and Convergence was obvious. At the Super Weekend men were encouraged to wear comfortable clothes and the Cabana was a lot cheaper than Hotel Marriott, where the Convergence was held. The clothing manufacturers also bring out their big men clothing lines to the Convergence. The Convergence also offers big gay men an opportunity to feel included in events reminiscent of a prom night or a homecoming dance, because the Convergence has similar types of events. Whitesel talks how these men being able to live these events, even though it happens years after high school, has a significant role in their lives. The Convergence attempts to help big men to assimilate to heteronormative middle class living when the Super Weekend is all about fun and comfort.

Whitesel argues that big gay men are a fun loving group just as any other LGBT group and that they are facing a countless amount of criticism and difficulties only because of their physical size. His research goal was to give voice to big men, and he draws ideas from previous studies on both, fat studies and queer studies field. He uses especially Erving Goffman’s studies of the stigma and how stigmatized people try to find social places that provide comfort. Whitesel own status as a homosexual male helped him to fit in the Girth & Mirth group. He was considered as a chaser and this created some difficult situations as he was getting attention from big men.

Overall, Whitesel tries to give big gay men a voice, since they are often discriminated and silenced in the thin-obsessed gay community. Among gay male categories fat gay men fall all the way to the bottom, this is why many big gay men try to escape the discrimination to bears group. It is important to remember that our society is really size discriminating and even heterosexual big men experience discrimination because of their size. Whitesel does good job describing the injuries that big gay men suffer because of their size and sexuality. Because of their discrimination, big gay men have to come out twice and that is what some of the big men refuse to do. They refuse to join these clubs because the members usually embrace their size and are not shamed of it at all. Sizism and homophobia are problems of our society and big gay men have to face this adversity daily.

 

Works Cited

Whitesel, J. (2014). Fat Gay Men: Girth, Mirth, and the Politics of Stigma. New York, NY: NYU Press.

Kids Don’t Care About Their Genitals

One of the most engaging topics of the gender and sexuality field is the categorization of children into male and female genders when they are born. The idea that a doctor defines a child’s gender at birth is a socially constructed practice rooted in defining gender as male or female based on genitalia. This idea of gender identity will strengthen as children grow up, through media exposure and toys they are given to play with. Parents often reinforce these stereotypes and buy their children either “boy” or “girl” toys. These gender specific toys usually differ from each other in color and theme. Toys that are labeled as “girl toys” are often pink or purple. They are usually princess themed toys, horses, and replica home appliances. Toys that are supposedly meant for boys are action figures, cars, and LEGOs for example.

The meme I found challenges these stereotypes of gender specific toys by poking fun at them. It was originally created by Kristen Myers. The meme gives advice on “How to tell if a toy is for boys or girls?” It guides the viewers on how toys should only be categorized as adults’ toys and children’s toys by their intended use. If a toy is meant to be operated with your genitals, it is a toy for an adult and not supposed to be used by kids. If it is not intended to beused with your genitals it is a toy for kids of all genders. This attacks the gender stereotypes because it says that toys that are meant for kids are for all genders and not specifically for boys or girls. My other supporting piece of media exemplifies this gendering of kids toys. It is a toy commercial by the popular toy company Barbie. The company is advertising their new product, a pink toy kitchen. In this commercial a girl calls for her friend and asks if she wants to help her to make dinner on Friday. The commercial goes on and the girls cook imaginary dinner using the Barbie Gourmet Kitchen. The main focus in this commercial is to picture how much fun the girls are having while doing things that are “natural for girls.” It would be “unnatural” to have two boys or even one boy and one girl cooking food with this toy. It is noticeable that the girl who asks for her friend to come over is wearing pink dress, and her friend is wearing red and yellow outfit. This shows us how this toy is meant to be “girls toy” because of the stereotypic appearance from both of the girls in this commercial. This idea of selling replica home appliances to girls emphasizes the femininity associated with domestic work. Girls are taught to enjoy cooking and other tasks around the house.

Target audience and purposes of these two media pieces are very different. The meme is meant to entertain people who understand the idea of having non-gender specific toys, and that it is totally normal for children of all genders to play with any toys. For people, who believe that it is unnatural for boys to play with “girls toys” or vice versa, this meme is educating through its use of humor. When kids see this picture, they are encouraged to think of where their toys fall in this category and how all toys can be gender neutral regardless of color or other factors. For the Barbie Gourmet Kitchen commercial, the target audience is young girls ages 5-10. It is also targeted to the parents of these girls, who are buying the product for their daughters. The purpose of this commercial is to sell the product and that is why it is emphasizing the fun the girls are having. The joyful music and happy girls are intended to make parents think that this product is good for their daughters. This commercial is especially targeted to traditional families, where gender roles are emphasized and parents want their daughters grow up to become traditional feminine women.

Both of these pieces have multiple details that are trying to catch reader or viewer’s attention. The use of big font in the meme pops up and gives the meme a title. The title presents the idea that the meme is challenging gender norms. Like all memes, this one is easy and quick to read. The main purpose here is to be funny and educate the audience by using humor as a tool. Little details in this meme are important. The colors that are used play a significant role. The question “Do you operate the toy with your genitalia?” is in a blue circle because it represents the neutral part of this meme. The line that says yes leads to a red circle with a text “this toy is not for children” and the other line saying no leads to yellow circle with a text “it is for children of all genders.” It is important that the gender-neutral answer is in yellow circle because yellow is considered one of the gender-neutral colors. The adult toy answer is in a red circle because it can be considered “dirty” or “naughty.” The use of the word genitals increases the humor of this meme because talking openly about genitalia can be considered funny. In the TV commercial, the high tempo and joyful music, the girls with high-pitched voices, and the decorated room are details that draw the viewers’ attention. The commercial’s purpose is to attract people and create a happy feeling, and this commercial does it.

The Barbie Gourmet Kitchen TV commercial supports the stereotypes that the meme is trying to challenge. The femininity and masculinity that the kids’ toys represent are being challenged when kids are encouraged to think about these issues themselves. Memes like the one analyzed above try to make people understand that traditional gender roles are outdated and children of this generation should not be forced to accept the gender assigned by a doctor at birth.

Works Cited:

Michelle, B. (2014). How to tell if a toy’s for boys or girls…. Retrieved September 17, 2016, from https://secretlyfabulous.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/how-to-tell-if-a-toys-for-boys-or-girls

Toys Commercials Barbie gourment kitchen Kuchnia Barbie Mattel–. (2014) Retrieved September 17, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Opbg3lxserc