Book Review: Seeking the Straight and Narrow

Seeking the Straight and Narrow: Weight Loss and Sexual Reorientation in  Evangelical America: Gerber, Lynne: 9780226288123: Amazon.com: Books

Seeking the Straight and Narrow: Weight Loss and Sexual Reorientation in Evangelical America by Lynne Gerber explores the intersection of weight and sexuality in the Evangelical church. The book draws focus to two Evangelical ministries that directly address these topics, First Place and Exodus International. First Place is a Christian weight loss program that was founded in 1981 by members of the First Baptist Church of Houston. The premise of the program is that Christians look to guidance and help from God for every other aspect of life, so they should be able to seek help from him for weight loss. First Place claims that it is grounded in both a spiritual and scientific approach to weight loss that benefits the person physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It uses divine assistance rather than intervention, and sees divine authority as complementary to scientific authority rather than contradictory. With the rise of the ideas that homosexuality is immutable and natural from the gay right’s movement, ex-gay ministries grew in opposition. Exodus International is an organizational umbrella for roughly one hundred and thirty ex-gay ministries that evolved when the new evangelical movements started to reach out to gay people in the 70s. These ministries use evangelicalism to focus on issues like drug addiction, cultural exploration, sexual promiscuity, and homosexuality. Gays and lesbians that were “newly saved” went to these ministries to reconsider their sexuality in the context of their faith. Exodus International was intent on helping people overcome their homosexuality rather than them being in the closet or taking the liberal approach of acceptance. The ministries see homosexuality as a moral and psychological issue that is undeniably a sin. 

Although the connection between homosexuality and fatness is not a direct one at first glance and First Place and Exodus International exist in different realms of the Evangelical world, Gerber argues that they are in fact deeply connected. She states that “both are associated with excessive desires and excessive bodily expression, excesses that have long disturbed American culture and moral sensibilities” (Gerber 14). Also, homosexuality and fatness have been a “focus of containment” for the state, medicine, and religion. “Losing weight and reorienting sexual orientation are projects fueled by a tension between malleability and limitation that is very compelling in American culture” (3).” The interconnectedness between ex-gay ministries and weight loss ministries through the focus on the body, excess, containment, and malleabillity displays a strong similarity between the two groups that would not come to mind when first looking into these topics. 

The monograph is split into an introduction, three chapters, each with two subchapters, and a conclusion. This setup provides for a very organized and clear structure of Gerber’s argument. The first chapter titled, “Framing Right and Wrong,” is split into two subsections, “Sin” and “Health.” This chapter discusses how evangelicals use sin and health as a way to argue what is morally right and wrong. Food is often talked about in relation to sin, sinful foods or the sin of overconsumption of food. Homosexuality as a whole is seen as a sin by many religious communities. Gerber discusses how the definition of sin varies from person to person. Some people believe that some sins are mild and “not what God created you to be” (39) or to be very harsh and “disobeying God’s commands” (40). On the other hand there are people that believe a sin is a sin and that all sins are seen as equal in the eyes of God. One of the most interesting things I found in this section was Gerber’s claim that gluttony is seen as a worse offense than homosexuality in the bible but in Evangelical American society, homosexuality is seen as worse. In “Health,” Gerber discusses how “the Lord is conflated with health” (53) and any behaviors that do not promote health are against God’s will. Each Evangelical group equates their ideal with health, heterosexual relationships being the only healthy relationships, and having low cholesterol or weight is the only way to be healthy. The next chapter, “Making Christian Bodies,” discusses how these programs place the responsibility of the outcome on the participants. If people want to see change, either in their sexuality or weight it is on them to make that change. This then puts the success or failure of the program on the participant and not the ineffectiveness of the programs. The third and final chapter titled, “Accountings,” is split into “Success/Failure” and “Breaking.” In “Success/Failure” Gerber discusses the approach of the ex-gay and fat-loss groups. Both use a flexible programming design which lets participants talk about their frustrations about how they are not seeing progress. This pulls attention away from the program and to the actions of the participants. The flexibility makes it so the program’s successes and failures can be justified and not questioned. The section “Breaking” posits that the rise in queer activism and fat positivity and acceptance movements has allowed for positive narritives about gay and fat Evangelicals. As a result of this rise, Exodus and First Place had to work against those new movements to retain their membership and participant devotion. This was, however, not successful as many participants in these programs reach a breaking point and leave. They then find acceptance in themselves and their fatness or gayness. “Sexual identity is no more inherently true than religious identity. If people feel they need to pick, they may pick either” (223). The final conclusion of the book discusses how these ex-members must face an internal battle between their fat or gay identities and their Evangelical identities because they feel they cannot exist as both harmoniously. Gerber comes to the acceptance that some people, although not necessary, feel like those identities are not compatible and must choose one.

Lynne Gerber is an independent researcher and scholar. She has held academic positions at both the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard Divinity School. Presently, she is an independent researcher based in San Francisco. At the time of writing this monograph, Gerber was a research fellow in the Religion, Politics, and Globalization program at the University of California, Berkeley. Gerber’s research focuses on religion, the body, and morality. 

Gerber used qualitative research in her investigation through participant observation, interviews, and content analysis of ministry materials. She attended First Place meetings for seven and a half months and although she was not a Christian and they knew she was a researcher, the group welcomed her and filled in the gaps of what she might not understand without a Christian background. However, it was not as easy to get participant observation in Exodus International. The groups were not welcoming to a researcher that was neither gay nor Christian. They had experience with undercover journalists and also thought that she would not understand their teachings or process since she was not a part of the groups they worked with. Therefore, she conducted her research through public gatherings and conferences of ex-gay ministries. She also interviewed sixty three people, twenty eight from First Place, twenty eight from Exodus, and 7 former members of Exodus. She is transparent in the possibility of bias in her samples as the majority of them were white and in leadership roles. 

One of the main strengths I found with Gerber’s book was how she took into account all perspectives on these issues and did not use her preconceived notions on the topics to influence her findings. She is very explicit in saying that everyone comes into the book expecting a different answer based on their beliefs about religion, gayness, or fatness. She knew that the people she interviewed and worked with throughout the process were expecting fair representation and that their vulnerable experiences were not going to be exploited. I think she shares their stories tastefully and respectfully, without any bias and without passing any judgement on them. I personally had thoughts about this book before reading it that were proved wrong. I think that the work is written very well and tells all sides of the story even if it’s not necessarily what some audience members want to hear. She acknowledges that there is validity to these programs while also talking about the pitfalls of them. 

The main weakness I found in the book was that the samples that Gerber used in her research were mainly white- 5 out of 63 participants were people of color. Although Gerber explicitly recognizes this underrepresentation in her analysis, it does not change the fact that her findings are not an accurate representation of the population. The attitudes and experiences collected from the Exodus and First Place people are only really representative of the white experience. The social impacts of weight and sexuality are not independent of race, for example a fat white person, fat black person, skinny white person, and fat black person will all have very different attitudes towards their fatness or lack thereof and will all have very different experiences regarding their fatness. Another example is that black gay men are more likely to face adversity than white gay men. Queer theory has historically already been focused around the white experience and failing to complete a more diverse assessment adds to this issue. Painting a white centered narrative of experiences in these Evangelical programs does not provide a comprehensive, representative view on how the programs affect people and the success of them. 

Overall, I enjoyed this scholarly read. I think it was a very interesting intersection between queer studies, fat studies, and religion studies. The book is written well and structured clearly, making it a read that is fairly easy to understand and follow while also being engaging. It is fascinating how these two Evangelical groups that seem to have nothing to do with each other, are very similar in their ways of teaching and programming, their beliefs around the things they are trying to fix, and how neither of them are very successful for their participants.

Works Cited:

Gerber, Lynne. Seeking the Straight and Narrow : Weight Loss and Sexual Reorientation in Evangelical America, University of Chicago Press, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy048.nclive.org/lib/davidson/detail.action?docID=772137.

Book Review: “Beneath the Surface”

Cover of Beneath the Surface: A Transnational History of Skin Lightening by Lynn M. Thomas

Beauty standards have long had a hold on popular culture. Beauty allows for people to advance in the social hierarchies of our societies, as well as provide a sense of self worth. The history of beauty can be described as a history of struggle, as society deems it more and more necessary to alter the physical, material body to meet social standards. Skin lightening is one of the most criticized beauty practices throughout the latest century. As a booming industry that is engaged across all socioeconomic levels, discourse around skin lighteners informs us about the changing meanings of skin color and how it affects racial hierarchies and anti-racism activism. Beneath The Surface looks into the transnational history of skin lightening practices through the perspective of South Africa and the United States and outward. 

Lynn M. Thomas’ main argument in Beneath The Surface is that bodily surfaces are vectors of antiracist struggles through its complications of skin meaning and privilege– especially in the time of aparthied rule in South Africa. She also describes how skin lighteners and other beauty practices both reinforce and challenge pre-existing assumptions about race, class, and gender. Thomas comes to the conclusion that “surfaces matter. The unrelenting presence of beauty practices in our globalized world stems from their ability to play on and reproduce a range of inequalities while, at the same time, offering hope and stirring feelings of self-worth” (Thomas 236). 

Lynn M. Thomas, co-editor of this monograph, is indeed qualified to discuss the topics of materialism and its effects on the concepts of race, class, and gender in our lives. Currently a history professor at the University of Washington, Thomas is known to be a historian of politics and gender in East and Southern Africa. She acknowledges her love for history due to her “desire to gain knowledge of the past in order to better understand the problems and possibilities of the present” (Thomas). tShe is best known for being the co-editor of The Modern Girl Around The World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization where she explores the rise of capitalist consumer culture, mass media, and its resulting new conceptions of race and gender. 

Through her uses of archives, popular culture trends, and oral history sources, Thomas traces the wavering opinions of skin lighteners and the varying meanings of skin color throughout time. In the first chapter, she examines indigenous and traditional practices on bodily surfaces. Smearing practices like the use of Tambookie grass and egg whites on skin as a method of lightening skin tones led to colonists labeling the natives as inferior for attempting to “whitein” themselves. White lead was also a popular skin lightener as it was commonly found in European portraits and used in Chinese and Japanese cultures.

Chapter 2 elaborates on the role mass media played in influencing South African consumers through the advertisement of skin lighteners. Local newspapers like Bantu World–the first South African newspaper to advertise cosmetics and include women sections– portrayed women in the “modern girl” stereotype that framed women as engulfed in self-indulgence and rejecting her duties. Bleeding into the next chapter, Thomas acknowledges how the success of African American cosmetic companies influenced how the skin lightening industry was perceived in South Africa and neighboring countries. There was a distinct difference between cosmetic use and racial respectability across the Atlantic, however, as South African beauty culture was dominated by black men discourse and run by white owned companies. In contrast with the United States, African American women controlled both the manufacturing and advertisement of their skin lightening and other cosmetic products. Chapter 3 expands upon the idea of growing black consumerism and how white South Africans dominated the cosmetic business in South Africa. Simultaneously emerging with the shifting dynamics of the industry were the concepts of race consciousness as ideas regarding color privileges became more evident, encouraging South Africans to pass for white using skin lighteners. 

Chapters 4 through 6 further elaborated on the impact mass media had on people’s changing perceptions of racial and gender hierarchies. Through magazines, film, and photography, the media began portraying lighter skin in association with success and opportunity, emphasized by Thomas’ comment: “Skin color, as one highly visible marker of race, loomed large in this world where whiteness was synonymous with power and privilege, and small differences in appearance could carry significant consequences” (Thomas 106). Meanwhile, criticism from medical professionals and anti-racist activists remained persistent in developing regulations for skin lightening practices in South Africa. From the medical standpoint, the discovery of hydroquinone as a new and “substitute” ingredient of mercury created more speculation about the safety of the products, ultimately leading to the ban of mercury based cosmetics and closer examination of over-the-counter products. As discourse around the health of consumers increased, so did conversations acknowledging the psychological damage of beauty desires on Black women. Criticisms between medical professionals and antiracism activists entwined eventually, leading to regulations on skin lighteners being set across South Africa.

The final chapter looks at the issues of the modern day and the nuances that come with the everlasting problems of racism and capitalism. Thomas points out the irony in the apartheid museum being located on top of an old, wealthy skin lightener manufacturing company. Instances like these prove that the skin lightening industry still has a hold on today’s society, and that the meaning and politics around skin color will continue to evolve and change.

The greatest strength of Beneath The Surface was Thomas’ ability to trace the altering meanings and understandings of skin color. Her attention to detail–the products, advertisement, manufacturing, target audience, usage, and health problems– it all relates back to how bodily surfaces were a focal point of racial identification and how people used skin lighteners to use that focus to their own advantage. It’s astonishing to realize that beauty practices can be such a destructive force, yet they will continue to be utilized and invested in as people continue to modify their physical appearance to fit into social desires. A weakness I believe to have found is Thomas’ lack of perspective outside of South Africa and the United States. Although South Africa is a unique viewpoint that allows us to analyze changing conceptions of skin color from colonial times to the postcolonial present, I think addressing other perspectives of African countries would bring more knowledge of historical beauty practices and develop more nuances among the practices and their relations to the cultivation of racial hierarchies.

I personally enjoy this book because of its unique perspective of skin lightening as an agent of disturbing the efforts of antiracist thinkers and activists. I never thought cosmetics would have such an impact on how we perceive racial and gender dynamics, let alone evolving beauty standards. 

References

“Department of History.” Lynn M. Thomas | Department of History | University of Washington, https://history.washington.edu/people/lynn-m-thomas. 

Thomas, Lynn M. Beneath the Surface: A Transnational History of Skin Lighteners. Wits University Press, 2020. 

Book Review: *Medical Bondage* and the Mothers of Gynecology

Now, more than ever, we are being called to trust in science. Modern discoveries have led to historic advances, and contemporary society is begging us all to “listen to the experts.” Whether in regard to the safety or efficacy of a vaccine, the analysis of big data, or even the impending doom of our planet, scientific experts, researchers, and doctors are constantly studying, informing, and warning us. In the end, it comes down to the public, to those who choose to believe or not, to those who trust or don’t, to those who heed the warning and to those who brush it off. However, this trust, this faith in scientific authority, is not one-size-fits-all. Our society is scattered with pillars of systemic discrimination and webs of complex realities, and science is no different. Many inequalities still exist today, especially in medicine, where POC have drastically different outcomes than their white counterparts. For example, in just 2015, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that POC experienced lower life expectancy rates, lower vaccination rates, higher blood pressures, and increased strains on mental health (Rees). Moreover, this discrimination is longstanding and historic, with many well-documented atrocities against POC being disguised as medical advancement. In her monograph Medical Bondage, Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens investigates this medical racism by uncovering the history of gynecology, highlighting the synergistic relationship between slavery, medicine, and science, all while humanizing and retrieving the lives of the enslaved women who propelled the rise of American gynecology.

Although Cooper Owens expertly delineates the synergistic relationship between slavery, medicine, and science, she explains that Medical Bondage is more about uncovering and crediting the lost “mothers” of American gynecology, the enslaved women essential the revolution of women’s medicine. She explains, “this book highlights the complicated relationship between slavery and medicine…but a common theme runs throughout it: the importance of enslaved women to the development of American gynecology” (Cooper Owens, 12). Specifically, Cooper Owens focuses on two expanding arguments. First, that reproductive medicine was “essential to the maintenance and success of southern slavery.” Second, that southern doctors knew that the labor of enslaved women assisted in the revolution of gynecology (Cooper Owens, 4). Together, these two arguments provide the foundation for the synergistic relationship that Cooper Owens emphasizes. With developed women’s medicine amplifying the success of slavery came an increase in the labor provided by enslaved women, producing a positive feedback loop. This relationship, alongside the expansion of scientific racism through false beliefs of difference and inferiority, contributed to the complex and cooperative web of racism, slavery, medicine, science, and capitalism, especially during the antebellum era.

Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens is the Charles and Linda Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine and Director of the Humanities in Medicine Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, one of two Black women in the U.S. running such a program. A popular speaker and award-winning historian, Dr. Cooper Owens is also the Director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia, America’s oldest cultural institution with one of the most significant collections of printed material in the U.S.. After attending two HBCUs, Cooper Owens attainted her Ph.D. in history from UCLA, gathering a number of prestigious fellowships along the way. Described by Time Magazine as one of America’s most “acclaimed experts in U.S. history”, Cooper Owens is also a Distinguished Lecturer in the Organization of American Historians (OAH). Medical Bondage is the first book written by Cooper Owens, winning the 2018 Darlene Clark Hine Book Award from the OAH for the best book written in African American women’s and gender history. Currently working on a second book focusing on mental health during the era of slavery, Dr. Cooper Owens brings fresh and compelling analyses of historical inequalities in American medicine, especially in the context of the complex relationships between slavery and science in the United States.

Medical Bondage employs the use of multitudes of primary sources in an effort to best portray the perceptions, attitudes, and relationships between the contributors to American gynecology, each with their own advantages. For example, case narratives and written descriptions of patient histories display that “black women experienced both antebellum professional medical care and racism” (Cooper Owens, 8). Medical and slave management journals also make up a large portion of Cooper Owens’s sources, with strong archival evidence providing detailed information on the treatment by and of enslaved women laboring in maternal and women’s health. However, in line with the goal of reclaiming the lives of these women, Dr. Cooper Owens draws more on these direct accounts of life, citing the oral histories of several former slaves, medical case narratives, the personal papers of slave owners, and judicial cases (Cooper Owens, 73). On a similar note, Cooper Owens utilizes plantation records, ledgers, and interviews to disclose the objectifying attitude of doctors towards slaves and poor immigrants (Cooper Owens, 8), building on this objectification in her later identification of black women as “medical superbodies”, explicitly “inferior” to white counterparts yet capable of enormous feats of strength, providing medical assistance, and serving as both the experimental subjects and esteemed models for the development of American gynecology (Cooper Owens, 109). In addition to the focus on enslaved Black women, Dr. Cooper Owens also analyzes medical experiences of poor Irish immigrant women in the antebellum era, accentuating and condemning the use of vulnerable female populations for exploratory and experimental gynecological surgeries. While previous scholarly works identified enslaved women and Irish immigrants are subjects of interest, Medical Bondage sets itself apart by illuminating the effects of medicine and science on the lives of oppressed women, ultimately highlighting the synergistic relationship Cooper Owens emphasizes so adamantly (Cooper Owens, 3-4). By comparing the experiences of Black enslaved women, Irish women, and white men, specific attention is provided to “antebellum-era racial formation theories” about blackness and how this both complicated and contributed to the development of American gynecology. Through this comparison, Cooper Owens successfully “retrieves the lives” of owned women beyond the hospital bed, honoring them alongside the doctors that experimented on them.

When reading Medical Bondage, a clear strength is just how well Dr. Cooper Owens is able to humanize the lives of enslaved women. By clearly defining and explaining the “synergistic relationship” of science and racism, and with the logic behind the term “medical superbodies”, the reader quickly visualizes the situations described by Cooper Owens. Whether through the quoting of enslaved women like Marriah Hines or Mary Reynolds, the close readings of case narratives and surgical procedures, or through the analysis of archived records from slave hospitals, it is remarkable just how much Dr. Cooper Owens is able to paint the picture of historical and inescapable oppression. The sheer scale of information, especially in the form of genuine primary sources, is exceptional and a clear strength of Medical Bondage. Moreover, this information is provided in a very accessible way, explaining baseline truths before exploring more complex concepts such as the hypocritical and binary notion of sameness and difference intrinsic to the “medical superbodies” of enslaved Black women. On the other hand, amplified analysis into metanarratives of “medical superbodies” and the experiences of the enslaved women can lead to issues regarding interpretation. Cooper Owens herself acknowledges this, encouraging further examination of these metanarratives while cautioning that many sources cannot fully capture or exhibit these elusive racial and medical metanarratives, as they are authored solely by white men (Cooper Owens, 85). Nevertheless, with her meticulous examination of firsthand accounts of enslaved women, Dr. Cooper Owens is careful in her characterizations of the reproductive realities experienced by enslaved Black women.

All things considered, Deirdre Cooper Owens masterfully explores the intertwining nature of slavery, medicine, and science in the antebellum-era United States. Medical Bondage provides both harrowing, groundbreaking accounts of medical racism and abuse in the development of American gynecology. While this book sheds light on the nature of medical racism, and provides the framework for understanding aspects of systemic racism still present in our society today, Medical Bondage might hold a higher value for those pursuing further education in medicine. As mentioned, medical racism is still present in our society today, and the notions of “medical superbodies” and treatment of enslaved women described in Medical Bondage begin to decode the evolution of medical oppression of POC in the United States. For those pursuing healthcare, understanding this history and being aware of its impacts can often be overlooked. However, healthcare is about much more medicine and science. Without the understanding of historical realities and the courage to acknowledge history’s impact on contemporary situations, the distrust of science and medicine will continue.  Through Medical Bondage, one can begin to understand just how complex the relationship between science and self can be, and how important it is to interrogate it.

Works Cited

Cooper Owens, Deirdre. Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology. University of Georgia Press, 2017.

Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens. “Bio.” Accessed November 7, 2021. https://www.deirdrecooperowens.com/bio

Rees, Mathieu. “Racism in Healthcare: Statistics and Examples,” September 17, 2020. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/racism-in-healthcare.

Book Review- *Fat Gay Men: Girth, Mirth, and The Politics of Stigma*.

The LGBTQ community is growing rapidy and gaining more support through the decades. However, many members within the community continue to experience discrimination because of their identity to other marginalized groups. Fat gay men have a hard time being accepted by the heteronormative society and the gay society. Members of this double marginalized group are often stigmatized and have a hard time feeling confident in who they are. Once the way fat bodies live and shape the world is understood, acceptance and celebration emerges. 

Jason Whitesel, professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, enters the world of fat gay men in his book Fat Gay Men: Girth, Mirth, and the Politics of Stigma (2014). Whitesel discusses how members of a double marganilzed group (being fat and gay) have reconstructed their identities in the face of discrimination. Whitesel argues that fat gay men are stigmatized in the LGBTQ movement because of their size. He explains how gay big men are marginalized both for their sexual orientation in a heteronormative society and for their size in a gay society (2). Gay fat men want their dignity and respect in society. 

Whitesel’s use of ethnographic study allows people to better understand the stigmatized world of fat gay men. Whitesel does his research and observations by becoming a member of a fat gay men group called Girth & Mirth. Although his experiences and analysis is concentrated to that group, Whitesel does discuss the issues in a broader, open-ended lens. The Girth & Mirth is a group that provides fat gay men a safe-space and support. They like to refer to each other as a family rather than an organization. The Girth and Mirth family allows fat gay men to do activities like eating in public, socializing with others, and more “every day” activities they would not have otherwise been able to do on their own. People in this group discuss ways in which they found out about Girth & MIrth and how their life has changed since. Members have heard of this group through newspaper ads, friends, and more. Ultimately, Girth & Mirth saved the lives of many and provided fat gay men a place to come together and embrace their diffrences.

When trying to understand the everyday life of being a fat gay men, Whitesel becomes aware of his skinny privilage and ensures to not let it play a role when analyzing his research. In trying to understand the impact social events have on the fat gay community, Whitesel attends two. The first event is called the Super Weekend and the other is a national Convergence in Minnesota. Whitesel went into these events with only telling a few people he was doing research. Because Whitesel is a skinny gay man, he was known as a “chaser” (term given to skinny gay man who are attractive to bigger men) when he became a member of Girth & Mirth. By going in as a member and not letting it known he was doing research, Whitesel was able to get  more sincere and honest responses on how the fat gay men feel towards their status within the gay community. 

In Chapter 3, Performing the Fat Body we learn about The Super Weekend, an event where fat gay men gather at the Cabana Inn and “create an inverse world for themselves” (61). Big gay men are able to engage in reinventing themselves as objects of desire and reclaiming their right to self-definitions. People who attend the event are able to have a good time engaging in scatological humor and celebrating through food, dance, and sex. Whitesel attended this event as a member of the Girth and Mirth club, but also a coordinator of the event. Through his weekend and interaction there, Whitesel noticed that big gay men use campy humor to work through the stigma of being fat. It is important to note that The Super Weekend can be controversial as it can be over sexualized. For example, the doorknob award is given to the person who has had sex with the most people during the event. However, using this form of humor allows big men to “overcome their underdog status” (86).

Whitesel also participated in the annual Convergence of big men in Minnesota, which he describes in Chapter 4, Big Gay Men’s Struggle for Class Distinction. This event is much larger compared to the Super Weekend. Although Convergence is similar to Super Weekend, Convergence offers sightseeing, education seminars and theme dances. For example, the Convergence does a “prom”, “homecoming” type dance where fat gay men are able to dress up and participate in an event that they might have felt excluded when in high school. Although many members participate in such events years after their “normal” time, they still play a big role in their life and how they feel about their identity. In this event, Whitesel was advised to talk openly about his role as a researcher so more people can talk to him about how big gay men work through self-esteem issues (98). The Convergence allowed big gay man’s status in the society to be improved. 

By attending both The Super Weekend and The Convergence, Whitesel was able to understand how big gay men socially construct their culture differently (108). This allowed Whitesel to conclude that gay men reconfigure the shame of fat stigma by either turning themselves into sex objects, or by seeking class validation (137). Whitesel was able to fit in the Girth and Mirth group nicely due to his homosexual male staus, but made sure to be aware of his skinny privilege as he interacted with people during both events. By keeping an open mind, Whitesel was able to grasp a better understanding of the injuries and discrimination that big gay men face.

Although Whitesel described his observation in both events, there were areas that lacked information. For example, during the Super Weekend, he talks about the Chub-and-Chaser relationship but does not bring to attention the controversy and hierarchies that might exist. Events like this are spoken in a positive narrative, and lack explaining issues that might be present like the fetishization of fat bodies. 

Overall, Jason Whitesel does a good job giving a voice to fat gay men. Members of this double marginalized group are often silenced by the gay community and Whitesel brings attention to groups such as the Girth and Mirth Club and how they use their platform to create a safe and fun space for gay fat men to express themselves and participate in normal activities such as partying and eating in public places. In Fat Gay Men: Girth, Mirth, and the Politics of Stigma we learn of the injuries and discrimination fat gay men face and ways in which they embrace their figure and get rid of the shame they grew up with. 

In conclusion, Fat Gay Men: Girth, Mirth, and the Politics of Stigma by Jason Whitesel is an informative read for people who are interested in learning about the discrimination that occurs when you are part of a double marginalized group. This book enriches fat studies and highlights interesting ways in which social stigma, body size, and sexual identity intersect and impact the lives of people. However, it is important to note that having some knowledge of fat studies will be useful in understanding Whitesel’s conclusion on how the three social issues connect with one another.

Works Cited

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

Book Review: “Giving a Voice to the Voiceless”

Christianity has an image problem—the image of being judgmental, hypocritical, and anti-gay. Homosexuality is one of the most relevant and pressing theological issues in the Christian community, especially in Christian colleges and universities. However, this discussion of homosexuality as a theological issue has neglected the well-being of individuals who experience same-sex attractions. The lack of compassion in discourse increases the marginalization of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual (LGB) and Same-Sex Attracted (SSA) individuals. Additionally, Christian denominations today divide by a progressive view of sexuality (PVS) or a traditional view of sexuality (TVS). A PVS postulates that “homosexual acts are not immoral or sinful…but like heterosexual acts, good or bad depending on context” (p. xix). A TVS postulates that “the Bible condemns same-sex sexual practice and romantic relationships…and blesses marriage between a husband and a wife” (p. xxi). Thus, Christopher Yuan wrote Giving a Voice to the Voiceless: A Qualitative Study of Reducing Marginalization of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Same-Sex Attracted Students at Christian Colleges and Universities to establish a foundation to navigate through the tension between sexuality and faith and to affirm the possibility of holding a TVS while reducing marginalization (Yuan, 2016).

In Chapter 1, Yuan introduced the “what” for his research. First, Yuan described how college campuses have been criticized as epicenters for institutional oppression, including the oppression of LGB and SSA who report marginalization at Christian colleges and universities. This tension created two camps: one who believes that the only solution to reduce marginalization is for Christian colleges and universities to change institutional policies on homosexuality to a PVS, and another who believes that reducing marginalization does not require institutional policy change from a TVS. However, Yuan “decided to seek input [for solutions] from the very ones who feel marginalized, LGB and SSA students, thus giving a voice to the voiceless” (p. 3). In Yuan’s own words, “this study sought to discover other options for reducing marginalization of LGB and SSA students at Christian colleges and universities without changing policies that directly reflect the school’s biblical foundation and religious identity” (p. 3). Thus, Yuan entered into the research under three assumptions: (1) the Bible is the Word of God; (2) the Bible communicates a TVS; and (3) Christian colleges and universities need to reduce the marginalization of LGB and SSA students.

In Chapter 2, Yuan described the “why” for his research when he embarked on “biblical and theological study of issues related to compassion for the marginalized” (p. 10). First, he established that there are clear examples of marginalization in the Bible. He identified three individuals at a higher risk for marginalization in the Bible: the Sojourner, the Widow, and the Orphan. Sojourners were socially outcasted and perceived as threats, so they depended on the kindness and hospitality of native inhabitants because they possessed no tangible rights. Widows were unimportant and perceived as a liability to their husband’s family and society because their female status, dictated by societal customs and traditions, made them dependent on the support and protection of their husband or adult male. Orphans were powerless for the same reason as widows, and they were vulnerable to losing their birthrights. Second, Yuan highlighted passages from the Old and New Testaments to create the theology of compassion for the marginalized. He stated, “Memory of and gratitude for God’s grace are essential to a practical theology of compassion for the marginalized, even LGB and SSA people” (p. 23). Third, Yuan drew some parallels between the experiences of those marginalized in the Bible and LGB and SSA people today. LGB and SSA people are often social outcasts in a society that is predominately heterosexual, and they are more vulnerable to injustice and susceptible to oppression, such as verbal and physical attacks and homelessness. Thus, Yuan concluded that even in “unrepentant same-sex sexual practice,” LGB and SSA people deserve compassion and kindness (p. 29). 

In Chapter 3, Yuan provided an overview of the project description, research method, and data analysis methodology. There were two research questions Yuan wanted to answer for his thesis: “What are the experiences of Christian college or university LGB and SSA students? How can the campus climate at Christian colleges and universities be less marginalizing for LGB and SSA students?” (p. 31). As a result, Yuan reviewed prior literature and sociological and psychological research studies on sexuality to determine the best terminology and research methods to use for his field research. The research design was a fixed mixed methods research design that incorporated predetermined qualitative and quantitative aspects and emphasized qualitative findings. The research instrument was “an online [Qualtrics] questionnaire consisting of three sections: (1) demographic data; (2) LGB and SSA student experiences; and (3) recommendations” (p. 39). The first section contained 11 questions (10 quantitative, 1 qualitative). The second section contained 16 questions (7 quantitative, 9 qualitative) of which three questions were adapted from the UCLA Loneliness Scale. The third section contained four qualitative questions. Additionally, Yuan opted to use King and Horrocks’ three stages of thematic analysis: (1) descriptive coding; (2) interpretive coding; and (3) overarching themes, as his data analysis methodology for qualitative data. Descriptive coding involves identifying relevant material directly from the text, interpretive coding involves clustering descriptive codes into categories, and overarching themes involve generating theories to explain the relationship between the levels of coding. Finally, Yuan submitted his proposal and informed consent to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at Bethel University. Upon approval, Yuan recruited a minimum of 30 LGB or SSA students and alumni who attended a Christian college or university that holds a TVS through an informal recommendation process. This process involved sending a Principal Contact Letter to administrators, staff, faculty, alumni, and students, who would forward the Potential Participant Letter containing the link to the study to qualified participants. 

In Chapter 4, Yuan “analyzed and evaluated the [quantitative and qualitative] data from the online questionnaire” (p. 40). The sample size was 80, of which 52 completed the full online questionnaire. However, the quantitative and qualitative data analysis included complete and partial data. When quantitative data were analyzed for demographics, all participants were young adults, students or alumni, who attended a Christian college or university that held a TVS, and the majority of participants were white males in the midwest. More importantly, Yuan identified three major findings: (1) a diversity among respondents who held a TVS and PVS and agreed with institutional policies; (2) a negative correlation between students who agreed with a PVS and agreed with institutional policies; and (3) a majority of respondents scoring high on loneliness. As mentioned earlier, qualitative data were analyzed as Yuan read over each response and applied King and Horrocks’ three stages of thematic analysis. From this process, Yuan developed three overarching themes, nine sub-themes, and twenty-seven interpretive codes. The first overarching theme was disclosure of sexuality, which contains two sub-themes—reason to hide and reasons to be open. The second overarching theme was experiences, which contain three sub-themes—classmates, employees, chapels and student programming. The third overarching theme was recommendations, which contains four sub-themes—institutional policies, campus climate, programming, and groups and mentoring.

In Chapter 5, Yuan drew from three primary sources: “(1) biblical-theological reflection; (2) related literature; and (3) data from [the] field research” to generate six conclusions and 34 action steps. The six conclusions about LGB and SSA students at Christian colleges and universities are: (1) they fall within a spectrum between what Mark Yarhouse, a clinical psychologist, called the “assertive advocates,” individuals who advocate for change to a PVS, and “sincere strugglers,” individuals who attempt to live faithfully according to a TVS (p. 98); (2) they generally feel lonely; (3) they hide their sexuality for the same reason as students attending secular institutions; (4) they experience a negative campus climate comparable to students attending secular institutions; (5) they expressed anger and frustration at Christian institutions; and (6) they expressed positive support. From these conclusions, Yuan stated that “marginalization of LGB and SSA students can be accomplished while holding to the traditional view of sexuality and without changing the institutional position on same-sex sexual practice” (p. 104). He described 34 actions steps within seven categories: “(1) clarity of institutional policies; (2) culture change campuswide; (3) culture change classrooms; (4) culture change dorms; (5) culture change programming; (6) community building; and (7) campus beyond” (pg. 104). Finally, Yuan conducted an exegesis of Mark 2:1-12, the story of Jesus forgiving and healing the paralyzed man who is assisted by his four friends from the roof. He urged individuals at Christian colleges and universities to be sacrificial friends and pallet bearers by implementing these action steps.

Overall, the greatest strength of Giving a Voice to the Voiceless is Yuan’s compassion because he is a culturally competent researcher. His compassion comes from his “firsthand experience as an SSA student, teacher [adjunct professor at a Bible college], and speaker at Christian colleges and universities” (p. 7). Yuan experienced marginalization for being Asian and effeminate, life as an openly gay man, challenges from distributing illicit drugs that cost him three years in federal prison, and restored humanity and hope through Christianity during and after prison. Thus, Yuan embraced his background and story, which enabled him to be culturally competent and empathize with LGB and SSA students in his research. 

A weakness in Giving a Voice to the Voiceless is the study design. Yuan compared results from previous studies of marginalization of LGB and SSA students at secular colleges and universities to his current field research. As a result, Yuan implemented a cross-sectional design during his analysis, but his conclusions may be compromised because he compared results from two different time points. 

Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading Giving a Voice to the Voiceless because I empathized with and gained a greater understanding of the marginalization experienced by LGB and SSA students. I appreciated how the book gave a platform for LGB and SSA students to be vulnerable with their experiences navigating through intersectional identities in sexuality and faith. While theological disagreements may be deep, something everyone, Christian or non-Christian, could agree upon is the need to reduce marginalization of and increase compassion for LGB and SSA. Therefore, this book is for anyone seeking to get educated and/or achieve those goals as the stories and specific action steps are inspired by the LGB and SSA students themselves. Additionally, this book is especially crucial for administrators, faculty, staff, alumni, and students at Christian colleges and universities, whose responses will have far-reaching consequences. As Yuan concluded in Chapter 5, I also hope that Christians would utilize these research findings to glorify God and create spaces that are “full of friends who are pallet bearers” to LGB and SSA individuals (p. 131). No longer should LGB and SSA individuals be paralyzed by fear and stigma. 

Bibliography

Yuan, C. (2016). Giving a Voice to the Voiceless: A Qualitative Study of Reducing Marginalization of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Same-sex Attracted Students at Christian Colleges and Universities. Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Book Review: *Her Stories: Daytime Soap Opera and Television History*

Soap operas are entertaining, attention-grabbing daytime shows full of drama and emotion. They are shown in the middle of the day, originally meant for housewives completing housework, waiting for their husband to come home from work. Soap operas may seem like a corny, somewhat outdated genre of television show, but Her Stories: Daytime Soap Opera and US Television History by Elana Levine describes how their impact on the development of society has been essential. Since they no longer have the impact they once did, people may be surprised by the power they held for decades, but soap operas are a monumental phenomenon in television history, and have contributed so much to the advancement of not only broadcast television, but women’s culture as well. 

Levine’s central argument is that “the history of the US daytime TV soap opera is a history of a media form, but it is also a history of a prominent cultural construction of femininity and its imbrication within the institutional and artistic evolution of the primary mass medium in American society for nearly three-quarters of a century” (6-7). The power and influence soap operas have had on American broadcast television and women’s culture in general may be largely unknown by many, but is essential to understanding many aspects of the development of society.

Elana Levine is a soap opera enthusiast, enthralled by the unique daytime television they have provided since the 1940s. She earned an undergraduate degree in English and Telecommunications from Indiana University, and graduate degrees in Media and Cultural Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Levine is a professor of media, cinema, and digital studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the English department, with areas of teaching and research in television studies/history, gender, sexuality, and media, as well as cultural/production studies and feminized popular culture. She has several publications related mostly to television and media history, with a focus on women’s studies. 

Levine’s uses mainly qualitative methodology, but includes others as well. Much of her research includes archival research of countless scenes from different soap operas, interviews, articles, and other monographs to reference important examples of the impact on women’s culture. Though few, Levine also includes some quantitative research and visuals, such as a graph used to represent the cost per minute of network daytime television ad time (85). She also incorporates some text analysis and close reading from works by prominent feminist writers. For example, Levine analyzes Betty Freidan’s The Feminine Mystique, including critiques that “spaces included varied expressions of the dissatisfactions of the white, middle-class, patriarchal ideal, and did not simply parrot the dominant ideology” (45), and comparing this to the world of Hollywood and gender and femininity altogether. The use of many different methods of research give different and interesting sources of support that all work together to emphasize the impact soaps had on the development of network television and women’s culture.

Part 1 of 3 in Her Stories includes chapters 1 and 2 from early the early 1940s to late 1960s. It describes soaps’ transition from radio to television, specifically its economic and creative contributions to television. While transitioning to television, soaps were some of the first broadcasts to pay close attention to visuals and sound, focusing closely on the details of production and set design such as how to maximize emotion through “face-to-face cutting,” or creating minimalistic sets for more emphasis on “working out of emotional conflicts” (24). By 1954, sponsors, networks, creators, and audiences proclaimed that soaps were here to stay. Soaps became more and more popular, and were becoming so lucrative that CBS was encouraging other networks to invest in them. It also describes the “social construction of gendered identities… offering up understandings of the struggles of postwar American life, shaping notions of gender, marriage, and family desperately in need of therapeutic intervention” (43). In this chapter, Levine brings in examples from popular texts, such as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Though Friedan does not specifically mention television or soap operas, it explains that “the focus of soap opera on the very matters of femininity, masculinity, marriage, and family life so central to the feminine mystique make it a crucial space for considering popular culture as a site for constructions of gender identity” (45). This was important to understanding how soap operas became helpful for viewers, particularly women, after the war and served as a sort of escape and relaxation from stress postwar. Many elements were used to define women as housewives, such as advertisements for items like kitchen appliances, or even the time of day at which they run, reinforcing women’s role as such. 

Part 2 includes chapter 3, 4, and 5, focusing on the mid 1960s to late 1980s. Levine that the soap opera was the foundation of the network era business model. Sponsors, audience members, and many others were extremely invested in soaps, and the relatively low production costs allowed for a fair amount of profit. Overall, soap operas were becoming even bigger and influential in business and television, and the narrative later “turns to relevance” and focuses on the social changes made in soaps. There began to be more pushback on the “white, middle-class, reproductive femininity” that put women into a box (11). Levine argues that soaps implemented more liberal-leaning views on relevant issues at the time such as racism, abortion, sexuality, and expectations of gender. Culture changed as soaps changed, and with such a wide viewership, soaps had tons of influence on what it meant to be a woman at the time.

Part 3 includes chapter 6, 7, and 8, from the late 1980s to the 2010s, focusing primarily on soaps’ downfall. The feminine “housewife” viewership that was often the main audience no longer needed soaps to relate to or define themselves because the concept of femininity and what it meant to be a woman was much broader than what it once was. Femininity in soaps was expanding, but they were not able to maintain viewership because of how quickly and widely women’s culture was growing. This part highlights struggles not only to keep up culturally, but economically since the decline in viewership. In order to maintain their audience and keep people coming back for more, production tried switching things up, doing their best to be as inclusive as possible, or completely rejecting the formula of soaps in hopes of staying afloat. These attempts did more harm than good, and the demise of soaps seemed inevitable. 

One noticeable strength in this monograph is the immense detail Levine uses to describe the many different aspects that contributed to the culture and creation of soap operas and how it impacted viewers. Within every chapter, there are several subsections that highlight different aspects of the time and topic. For example, Chapter 4: “Turning to Relevance” focuses primarily on soaps beginning to include relevant politics and culture into their shows. Just a few subsections of this chapter include soaps’ “generational conflict” (110), “racial and ethnic difference” (115), and “stories of pregnancy and abortion” (120). Each of these subsections contribute to the overarching idea of soaps’ incorporation of relevant information at the time, but with specific focuses on different aspects that contributed to the shows and relevant culture outside of it. While they mainly focus on gender and femininity, they also include important elements that had a prominent impact on culture at the time, adding nuance to the chapters and the monograph as a whole.

Although there is plenty of detail and information on the many different topics and aspects of the history of soap opera, not until towards the end of the monograph do we see any sort of pushback or other-sided perspectives on the left-leaning stances soap operas often incorporated. Soaps often highlighted liberal views in their shows concerning abortion, rape, sexuality, even just giving women more freedom and breakaway from gender roles, and many more, but since these were newer views at the time portrayed on such a big scale, surely there must have been more pushback and implications than what is included in the monograph. Including all peoples’ perspectives at the time would create more depth to the already very nuanced history of soap operas, and would not only give readers a better view of America’s reaction to their favorite television shows, but also America’s social development as a country. 

Overall, Her Stories: Daytime Soap Opera and US Television History was an interesting and entertaining read. As someone who is a bit too young to have experienced soap operas’ peak, delving into the world of soaps provided an unexpected perspective into the progression of gender roles and norms, and other social issues. The format of the book made it concise and easier to read, working chronologically chapter by chapter through the history of soap operas while describing its influence on media and culture, as well its downfall and why that was. Throughout every section, there is a clear topic about how the phenomenon of soap operas influenced US broadcast network television or culture in general. Soap operas may not be what first come to mind when I think of the change in women’s culture and politics, but this was an eye-opening book on such a realization, and how it was a central part of the history of television and women’s culture.

Levine, Elana. Her Stories: Daytime Soap Opera & US Television History. Duke U.P., 2020. 

Book Review *Everyday Sexism: The Project That Inspired a Worldwide Movement*

The overwhelming truth of our world today is the ignorance or dismissal of still- rampant misogyny is as harmful as ever. In some cases, it feels as if the most effective way for the public to understand and agree there is a problem to actively work against, the accounts must be clearly laid out in front of our eyes. Laura Bates, journalist and feminist who details her own reports of assault, takes this to heart as she transforms what began as a catalog for women to share personal experiences of sexism, into a full-forged book of facts and real life stories of how misogyny is woven into everyday life. After her own experience of being harassed on London transport in 2012, Bates becomes passionate about the reality that if she went through this act, other women most definitely have their own stories to share as well.

The beginning of this movement was founded on the idea that the day to day instances of harassment and under representation of any degree deserve to be reported and known, so the argument that this does not occur in current day society can be rebutted. The Everyday Sexism Project, which began in London but became a worldwide phenomenon, is still running as a website, and anyone can report cases of misogynistic actions. After the online platform gained momentum, Bates formatted the stories told into one of the boldest works on the fight against sexism. The power of this collection comes from it being exclusively compiled of real life and relevant circumstances of misogyny being alive today, from women who have lived to tell the tale. 

Laura Bates has certainly already left her mark on the gender and sexualities field, from her numerous publications to her awards won in the craft. An English feminist writer who graduated from the University of Cambridge, Bates has published five works of literature, including Misogynation: The True Scale of Sexism (2018), The Burning (2019), and Men Who Hate Women (2020) as her most recent works. She is also working with the Women Under Siege Project, which is based in New York and has a mission of chronicling how gender violence has been utilized in warfare. Articles she has contributed to this platform include “The Impact of Nurturing Male Violence,” “Shutting us down: How online misogyny prevents women from fully participating in misogyny,” and “A crime upon a crime: rape, victim-blaming, and stigma.” Bates is strong in her assertion of important conversations into her work as she tackles women’s issues. Her relentless dedication to both breaking down injustice and empowering women, which go hand in hand, has led her to earn many honors, including the British Empire Medal in 2015 for services to gender equality and Cosmopolitan’s Ultimate New Feminist Award in 2013. More recently, she has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature as a result of all of the new and upcoming works she has provided. Bates’s publication of Everyday Sexism, in particular, began her trajectory as a feminist writer and opened more doors for how the misogyny women face can be addressed in future literary works. 

The approach Laura Bates takes covers how sexist behavior exists in all places, but it is easy for those who do not experience it’s harm to become oblivious to its effect when it goes unreported. Through the one hundred thousand entries posted, it can no longer be waved off as an invalid, already resolved issue. This myth is debunked further with every inclusion of personal stories from cat-calling, unfairness in the workforce, to violent rapes. Laura Bates declares these crimes against women need to be addressed on a wide, global platform. 

Bates presents both qualitative and quantitative research as the methods of which to layer this argument. The qualitative accounts are derived from the inclusion of women’s personal stories and experiences. While the Everyday Sexism itself website gained over 100,000 submissions before this book was published, the book includes around 15 short excerpts of what these posts had to say. This strengthened the work tremendously, since it backed up Bates’s argument of how misogyny is interwoven into the trials of daily life through following up a point with an undeniable example that proves it. Quantitatively, each chapter begins with a list of vital statistics regarding the topic. This is equally as advantageous to the case at hand, since it sets in place a series of irrefutable numbers and percentages that cannot be overlooked. Both methods, when imputed together, are effective in conveying the serious message of what women have faced both historically and, now, face currently. 

The first four chapters, after the introduction, focus primarily on “Silenced Women: The Invisible Problem”, “Women in Politics,” “Girls,” and “Young Women Learning.” Bates sets up her argument in a way that naturally flows and substantiates as it goes along. To start, she pinpoints three elements that lead silencing to occur: “these three powerful silencing factors- the invisibility of the problem, the social acceptance of it, and the blaming of victims- are corroborated loud and clear by the reports we received, particularly from young women who are learning such lessons hard and early” (29). Later on, in the chapter of women in politics, Bates offers striking statistics, including how at the current rate of progress, it will be 2121 before gender parity is achieved in Congress, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Bates follows this up with stating how women are enormously underrepresented in politics around the entire globe, and how “one frustrating consequence of women being underrepresented in politics is that often any woman is seen first and foremost to represent all women, as if she speaks and advocates for them, and can be judges as if all womankind stands or falls by her actions” (66). This is especially problematic when taking into account women who are also marginalized by their disabilities, sexuality, or skin color, “none of whom are miraculously included in the debate simply by the introduction of a white, middle-class voice” (66). Bates starts her book with powerful sentiments that cannot be overseen. 

The next following chapters include “Women in Public Spaces,” “Women in the Media,” “Women in the Workplace,” and “Motherhood.” These four sections are incredibly telling as they combine all of the different areas where women may face the most discrimination. One particular area this is amplified is street harassment. Bates includes stories of women who “describe the emotional and psychological ways street harassment affects them to an extent that those who do not experience it might struggle to imagine” (173) including the self-hatred and shame that can result from it. Bates also adds how “women of color, trans women, and women of the wider LGBT community experience disproportionate levels of street harassment (the Stop Street Harassment study found that 45 percent of all LGBT people surveyed experienced physically aggressive harassment or assault compared to 38 percent of all heterosexual people) (178). The implications of mistreatment in these key areas is extremely harmful, as Bate expresses, since it devalues the way women view their presence in their fields of study, and how much more difficult it becomes to advance. Also, it is detrimental for institutions to refuse to evaluate how they may be playing a complicit role in this issue. 

The final four chapters of this book incorporate “Double Discrimination,” “What About the Men?” “Women Under Threat,” and “People Standing Up.” The final excerpts of Bates’s work are arguably the most dire to address today. This is where Bates highlights intersectionality as a key term. She explains how “since the Everyday Sexism Project started, many of the stories we have catalogued have described not only sexism but sexism intermingled with other forms of prejudice- racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ageism, disablism, stigma around mental health problems, and more” (291). It is indisputable that transgressions are commonly made against multiple identities at once, and Bates’s inclusion of double discrimination as an entire chapter gives this book an added layer of depth. She states how anyone different from the dominant norms including heterosexuality, white, cisgendered, and nondisabled are met with serious threats. From a feminist perspective “if we are to tackle the fact that women have historically been oppressed because of characteristics that are seen to be different from the male norm, how can we protest such treatment while simultaneously excluding from our own movement the needs and agendas of those with other significant characteristics?” (293). Bates seeks for intersectionality to be synonymous, or rightfully included in every action of the feminist movement, which is crucial for her case to not be met with protest of it being catered exclusively towards white women, which is a route taken time and time again with feminist works that do not account for all women. 

One particular area where Bates’s strengths as a feminist writer come to fruition is her thoroughness when it comes to detail. Each chapter is filled to the brim with resources, research, and insight into the topic at hand. Her word choice is poignant and powerful, and causes readers to be introspective and process what is on the page, and how it is ever present in the world around them. Her inclusion of intersectionality and how incredibly important it is to understand how the issues white, middle class women experience cannot be the loudest voice in the room, since they cannot speak for everyone, sets her tone and supports her argument as one that is inclusive. 

One identifiable weakness is how, although there was a chapter dedicated to the presence of double discriminatory factors, this was not brought up until the very end. Bates did an exceptional job of spotlighting it as she wrote, but it could have been included throughout more of the book. If it were touched upon inside more of the work, readers might gain a greater sense of how pressing and real it truly is. Also, Bates does not elaborate much on what the word “women” covers for her, so this either means it is an umbrella not necessary to exclusively define for the book to still carry the same message, or it is a binary approach. After reading, I believe Bates refers to this term more closely to the first option. 

Critics rave of Everyday Sexism as a pioneering work, and after analyzing it, this remains true. The layout is concise, and the material is nothing short of compelling and raw. Bates has most definitely succeeded in bringing forth a book that is both personal and provocative in how it addresses the issues that need to be dissected. Every skeptic of misogyny and gender discrimination as a real deterrent of women’s empowerment and equality should read this book. College-age students specifically may gain the most from diving into this work, as it is important to pinpoint how these misogynistic mentalities penetrate our world as we are learning individuals, so we can dismantle them together. Overall, this work from Laura Bates is a must-read for all. 

Book Review: “Sex/Gender Biology in a Social World”

by Chase Waldner

One of the most perplexing and scientifically mystifying areas of study is neuroscience. The study of the brain, memory, identity and neural networks is interconnected and infinitely complex due to the multitude of factors seen and unseen that contribute to what makes you, you. A specific application of this is in the biological study of sex, gender, and sexuality. We have no idea what truly creates gender in humans or any animal for that matter, but we have some fairly decent guesses. There is a potential prenatal hormonal factor that could contribute to gender; a genetic factor, epigenetic factor, a parental and sibling factor, a societal factor. There are too many “answers” as to why we experience gender the way we do to seemingly ever find the true cause, although I suspect it’s a combination of all of those aforementioned aspects in combination with some we have not even discovered yet. Over the years, biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists have all performed many different types of studies to try and get closer to the big gender questions: Why do we experience it? Why are there so many different expressions of it? How can we better understand it? And we have made a lot of progress in this field. Anne Fausto Sterling brilliantly summarizes a lot of the major work done on gender exploration and does so from a lot of these unique scientific perspectives. 

In, Sex/Gender Biology in a Social World, Sterling deep dives into the scientific pursuit of gender within the context of social pressures we experience within our culture. She describes both the biological and cultural contributions to our multifaceted gender identity and expression starting from conception and ending with adulthood. She identifies the many different sex and gender identities we cycle through throughout our development and how they each play a role in our final, “adult gender identity.” Sterling uses Money’s “sex layer model” to show this. You start with chromosomal sex (ie. XX, XY, or, rarely, some other combination of sex chromosomes), then “indifferent fetal sex,” and as you develop go through 11 other “layers” of sex until you end up at your adult gender identity. These layers aren’t linear as some layers form as a function of several that come before it. For example, brain sex and fetal internal reproductive sex both contribute to the pubertal hormonal sex of an individual, and gender fortification and body image both create your juvenile gender identity. Sterling uses this book to break down all of these different categories and talk about the different aspects of each one and how they play off of each other in order to come to some sort of definition or conclusion on what makes up our gender.

these are the “layers of sex” from Money

NY native, Anne Fausto Sterling was born in Queens, New York, in 1944. She graduated from The University of Washington with a degree in zoology in 1965 and later earned her Ph.D. in developmental genetics from Brown University in 1970. Currently, Sterling is the Nacy Duke Professor of Biology and Gender Studies at Brown and works within the molecular and cell biology department as well as the biochemistry department. During her time in academia, Sterling has written several books about gender intended for a general audience and has made over 60 scientific articles on similar subjects. She also is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science where she has received many grants for both the sciences and humanities. Clearly, Sterling is known for her astounding scientific achievements and has made many contributions to modern-day feminist movements with her work on the intersection of gender and biology. Sex/Gender Biology in a Social World was written in 2012 and is just one of the written works Sterling has produced on gender. Her listed main areas of interest are, “rethinking the nature/nurture divide, women in science/gender, intersectionality, homosexuality and its construction, and the role of race in gender and sexuality.” Her Ph.D. and mountain of scientific excellence make her uniquely qualified for explaining and exploring gender through a variety of scientific methods. 

For this book, Sterling references many researchers across several disciplines and creates a holistic view of gender through that lens. As said before, she uses Money’s “layers of sex” model to explain how our own gender changes as we grow up. At the beginning of the book, Sterling uses several stories and metaphors to explain how we have been and probably will always be a gendered society. Although our societal expressions of gender have changed throughout time and across different cultures, it will always be a part of the human experience. Starting from birth, your parents dress you and socialize you based on your sex or genitalia, and with this interpretation of your sex, your social gender identity is created. In modern-day America, we have pink for girls, blue for boys, and all childrens’ toys have a gender that they are intended for. Our society has determined what you are supposed to like and how you should act based on your perceived “boyness,” or “girlness.” This in combination with the infant starting to learn their anatomy by discovering their genitals, and the genitals of those around them creates their sense of body image.

Sterling also makes a point of how some different species have more than two sexes, and how some creatures have more than one type of male or female. For example, some insects have three distinct sexes, and there is a species of lizard that does not use males at all for reproduction. There are a variety of factors that determine what sex an animal will be too. Some frogs use temperature for sex determination, and there are so many other seemingly arbitrary environmental features that different species use to determine the sex of their offspring. Some species can even change their sex (ie. develop the opposite genitals and reproductive organs to their natal body) based on a lack of males or females in their vicinity. All of this boils down to Sterling making a point of how up in the air and fluid both sex and gender are. We can not truly understand them if we keep thinking of them as rigid and unchanging when in reality they keep growing and developing just as we do.

As the book continues Sterling circles back to explain the process of human child development in more detail and highlights the stage or “layer(s)” of sex one has reached based on their stage of life. When embryos are first beginning to develop they go into a stage of “equipotential development” where male and female fetuses are indistinguishable. At this point in time, the fetus is said to have reached the “indifferent fetal sex” layer, and soon the XX and XY babies will begin to develop in separate, yet similar, processes. Sterling also makes a note of intersex children and how sometimes sex can get a little more complicated than just male or female. Intersex babies may present as one gender while having the genetics of another, or even have a mix of male and female parts. She then goes into the different aspects of “brain sex.” In some species, like canary birds, the presence of a sex hormone will change the size/development of specific parts of the brain. For example, the injection of testosterone into a female canary’s brain will cause the “song” part to grow and that female will begin to sing male-specific songs. Environmental complexity also affects brain sex. In an experiment with rats, there were separate groups of male and female rats. Some were placed in a cage with no enrichment, while others were given toys and housed together to provide an enriched environment. Female rats in the enriched environment had significantly higher neural branching (think of more neural branching equating to more/better/faster communication within the brain) than males. And in the caged environment, males had higher levels of neural branching. This goes to show how complex brain sex is and how, in some ways, male and female brains develop differently. This, in turn, creates a big part of our adult gender identity.

Throughout the entire book, Sterling does an excellent job at providing enough scientific detail to provide context and clarity to her exploration of gender, while at the same time not jumping off into the deep end and making the book inaccessible to people with less biological knowledge. At some points in the book she lets herself dive a little deeper into genetic and biological factors of sex and gender and provides mind-gripping science and discovery to keep her readers invested in the book. Some chapters even come across more like scientific articles minus the chemical jargon. This is a wonderful way to expose people to the science behind our brains without losing them with an excess of detail. At the same time, Sterling also uses more anthropological and historical perspectives to analyze gender which only furthers her reach of audience.

While Sterling does a phenomenal job explaining all of these different perspectives, she also sometimes gets lost in story and metaphor. Part of her writing style is to use anecdotes to explain complex topics, but she sometimes spends too much time fleshing out those stories and loses focus on the point of her book. In chapter five, for example, she spends the first half recounting two conflicting scientists’ histories with each other in an attempt to explain gender identity and, more specifically, fetal sex. Although there is validity in bringing up these two scientists, the length of time she spent on their lives rather than their work concerning gender in the context of this book seemed excessive. This is not the only time she does this either. There are a few longer chapters in this book that could be shortened and clarified with some editing down of irrelevant information.

Anne Fausto Sterling’s Sex/Gender Biology in a Social World was well written and provided a wonderful intersection of science and humanities to explore what sex and gender are. Her in-depth recount of the neuroscience and biology behind gender was especially gripping while reading through this book. It truly is meant for people from all walks of life. You don’t have to know a lot about science or biology to understand what Sterling is saying, although having some prior knowledge is imperative to understanding the full picture. At the same time, you do not have to be an anthropological expert to follow along either. Sterling successfully made this a book for all people regardless of their background and education, as there are so many different yet connected perspectives on gender that she cycles through.

Work Cited:

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World. Routledge, 2012.

Sterling, Anne. “Home – Dr. Anne Fausto.” Anne Fausto Sterling, http://www.annefaustosterling.com/.

Book Review: *Ableist Rhetoric: How We Know, Value, and See Disability*

As a society, our interpretation of disability should be no different than our interpretation of race, gender, class, or any other aspects of our identities. But, as a society, our interpretations of our different identities face constant backlash and oppression that plagues the idea of what is considered to be “normal.” In the monograph, Ableist Rhetoric by James L. Cherney, it is emphasized that ableism studies are different from disability studies, but in studying ableism, contributions are made to the field of studying disabilities. To put it simply, studying oppressive factors enhances knowledge on the situation of oppression. The same can be said for racism and ethnic studies and sexism for women’s studies (Cherney 11). Additionally, Cherney argues that viewing ableism in a rhetorical light allows for us to see the role it plays in everyday life and our commonly perceived norms.

James L. Cherney, Ph.D. is currently an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. In addition to Ableist Rhetoric, Cherney has published multiple journal articles, book chapters, media reviews, and more, most of which with a focus on disability studies and ableist culture.

In Ableist Rhetoric, Cherney argues that the main relationships that support the genre of ableist rhetoric are that (1) deviance is evil, (2) normal is natural, and (3) the body is able (Cherney 24). He discusses that while some media may not fall neatly into one of these three categories of analysis, ableist themes can nonetheless be present. The argument for deviance is evil is that in the media, people and concepts that are “unnatural” or deviate from the accepted norms exhibit sin and are reason for punishment. This relationship is exhibited when Cherney discusses The Exorcist and how the little girl’s deviant behavior is demonic and needs to be expelled. Before it’s accepted as demonic possession, doctors pass it off as a mental disorder or some form of neurodivergence that is not inherently bad. However, once they find that the root of the problem is demonic possession, it is unanimously decided that the girl must be cured. While one may question how this example is an idea that enables an ableist rhetoric (since it rules out a neurodivergence), it still assumes that deviation from normal behavior is evil and needs to be dealt with in a proper, holy way.

The argument for normal is natural is that natural law and biological reason are used to define what we consider as “normal” (25). The relationship is demonstrated by explaining the Cochlear Implant Debate (CID) and the conflict it creates within ableist culture, but more specifically, Deaf culture. According to Cherney, “the CID pits Deaf activists who see the implant as a threat to their cultural identity against medical specialists and implant designers who typically view deafness as an illness that can and should be cured” (64). Activists take the stance that this view assumes that Hearing culture and spoken language is the only valid approach to communication, while there is an entire culture of Deaf people who communicate through gesture and sign language. The issue is that while they are alienated from the general majority in a space that is not originally theirs, who is to say what can be considered normal in a place where that minority is the majority. A hearing person who is learning sign language can be considered a minority in the Deaf community in a similar way in which cultural immigrants are technically the minority in a foreign country or setting. 

The argument for body is able equivocates the capacity of one’s body with ability, enforcing the idea that the confines of body measures determine one’s ability. In the chapter where Cherney builds on the idea, he uses the example that the rhetoric of body is able supports that with the accessibility of stairways, “people who cannot use stairs are disabled by their bodies instead of by a set of ableist ideas and the structures that entrench these in contemporary culture” (85). This relationship is examined further in the context of disability and sport. Cherney discusses the idea that sports rely on “privileging those whose bodies are different enough to give them an advantage in the specified activity,” essentially saying that sport is ableist in its nature to encourage only those who have the specific abilities to participate (94). This not only excludes disabled people, but further excludes “normal” able-bodied people who just don’t have the general skill set to excel at sports. However, the prevalence of disability sports like the Paralympics, wheelchair basketball, quadriplegic rugby, and many more suggest that everyone can benefit from the perks of participating in sports and physical activity. In carrying out the notion that sports are available to all and that to be athletic is to be able-bodied and extremely physical implies the blatant ableism present within the realm of physical activity and the exclusion principle based on biological strength and fitness.

Cherney’s research for the book tends to focus mainly on social and media analyses, drawing information and examples from popular media (like The Exorcist) and current social commentaries (like the CID and the debate about disability and sport). Additionally, Cherney draws information from historical points of view and various ethnographic accounts of ableist culture. By combining the various sources of information, his research contributes an objective as well as a subjective telling of each example.

A main strength of Ableist Rhetoric is that the book highlights the differences between disability studies and ableist studies, giving more clarification in the argument of how we interpret media, society, and otherwise harmless constructs. In the past, we have not questioned the concept of normal and how we define normal in the added context of abnormal. However, with Cherney’s defined relationships that make up ableism, it is easier to understand how we continue to exacerbate the conditions of disability. Additionally, the book manages to tell a subjective view of disability studies and how its rhetoric impacts our daily lives in a much broader context than just simple activism for disability.

A weakness of Ableist Rhetoric is that it fails to provide an explanation for exactly what rhetoric is. While it goes very in-depth on the rhetoric of ableism and other rhetorical structures and models, the text does not give a straight definition of rhetoric. It would be beneficial to include this definition in order to give a basic understanding to the backbone of his argument. Additionally, including a more thought-out definition of rhetoric could help to expand the audience that the book targets, since many people may not know what it is off the top of their heads.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Ableist Rhetoric because not only did it help me gain a better understanding of a more rhetorical view of disability studies, but it helped me to realize that my lens on the world is more clouded than I originally thought. I found it really interesting to learn more about the debate of how we define normalcy, mainly because I have been learning more information on what “normal” is, but in many different contexts (my classes, other books, etc.). I believe that everyone should be able to read this book in some shape or form, even if they just hear Cherney’s view on the main three flaws in our understanding of ableism. A major audience for the book should be healthcare providers, people who have a voice in media and society, and even just people who interact with disabled people on a day-to-day basis. Ableism is a real problem in our society, but due to our view on what “normal” is, we overlook its simplest manifestations, whether that be sports, popular culture, or even just daily functioning.

Works Cited:

Cherney, J. L. (2019). Ableist rhetoric: How we know, value, and see disability. The Pennsylvania State University Press.

James Cherney: University of Nevada, Reno. Academia.edu. (n.d.). Retrieved October 31, 2021, from https://nevada-reno.academia.edu/JamesCherney/CurriculumVitae.

University of Nevada, Reno. (n.d.). James Cherney: Communication studies. Department of Communication Studies. Retrieved October 31, 2021, from https://www.unr.edu/communication-studies/faculty-and-staff/james-cherney.

Book Review: *Her Stories: Daytime Soap Opera and US Television History*

Soap operas have been a major part of television history, anyone who owns a TV has at some point in their lives watched a soap opera show. These programs have highly influenced popular culture. The monograph Her Stories by Elana Levine highlights the impacts soap operas have had on the US broadcasting industry as well as on “cultural constructions of gender and social identity”. Similar to the popular girls in high school, soap operas can be the trendsetters for what is and is not acceptable in our society. Soap operas often set the standard and definitions for gender and sexuality, many teens grow up watching these shows that can ultimately determine and impact each generation’s cultural beliefs. 

In Levine’s own words, Her Stories “is American television history, a lens through which to see the economic, creative, technological, social, and experiential path of television across seventy years that exposes its gendered structure” (6). This age was the start of the “cultural construction of femininity” as well. In the 1940s these serials were mainly viewed by American housewives and highlighted the differences between men’s and women’s lives that could push some to envision cultural changes. This book tells the history of soap operas and more specifically the shifts in culture and identities. Levine lays out this history, from the 1940s to 2010s, to support her claim that soap operas have shaped US culture on gender and identities. 

Elana Levine is a Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she teaches Media, Cinema, and Digital Studies. Not only was she an avid soap opera watcher but it was her main focus in graduate school. She dedicated many of her papers and academic research to soap operas. This book was written over a span of twelve years, focusing on how the past, present, and future have been shaped by soaps. Levine got her undergraduate degree in English and Telecommunications from Indiana University and graduate degrees in Media and Cultural Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she currently teaches. Just from her degrees, it is obvious that soap operas and television’s effects on culture are the main focus of her studies. This topic could be researched for years, each generation tends to be impacted slightly differently. It could also go into depth on how this has affected teens mentally as they figure out who they are and how they fit into society. 

Levine’s research is mainly from archives, she combines her own personal experiences and research analysis with books, manuscripts from soap creators/networks, episodes, blogs, and websites. She is able to take into consideration the facts and opinions of that current time period and connect it to what occurs in the soap opera. She watches the soap opera shows or reads the scripts and she then analyzes them and makes connections on how they differ depending on the era.  

As stated above Levine goes through the history of soap operas and the cultural impacts they had on each decade. Focusing on two main changes, the first being “Change in US broadcast network television as an economic and social institution” (page 5). The second is “change in cultural and constructions of gender and intersecting aspects of social identity including race, class, and sexuality”(page 5). The first change is more on how TV changes and gets influenced/ influences society, whereas the second is how these changes affect cultural ideas and beliefs on intersectionality. These changes are constantly occurring in society but TV and soap operas specifically had and have a major impact on culture. 

This book is split into three parts each focusing on a different time period. “Part 1: The New TV Soap” is from the late 1940s to early 1960s focusing on the transition from radios to television and post-war soap operas. “Part 2: The Classic Network Era” is from the mid-1960s to the late 1980s and discusses the evolution of television businesses and content. “Part 3: A Post Network Age” from the late 1980s to 2010s is on issues of the post-network era.

The first chapter is called “Serials in Transition (From Radio to Television)”, as the name implies this chapter is describing the transition from radio to TV. Early television was trying to find ways to get people to watch more television, by appealing to current social expectations they can convince viewers to watch more television. Chapter Two: “Daytime Therapy (Help and Healing in the Postwar Soap)” discusses the postwar mentality on gender identities and family roles. Dissecting the soap opera, As the World Turns, helps show how this “eras investment in emotional realism” created characters that questioned traditional roles. This was the first era in television where characters started questioning and expressing current traditions and identities. 

In part two, Chapter three: “Building Network Power (The Broadcasting Business and the Craft of Soap Opera),” Levine examines the economic growth and development of television-influenced soaps. These “developments in the ownership and control of soaps were crucial shifts in the business, enabling network dominance”(83). Soaps were one of the most profitable forms of entertainment so they became very popular on many networks. At this time soap operas were still created with young housewives as the main audience. Chapter four: “Turning to Relevance (Social Issue Storytelling)” explains the new social issues emerging in soap operas in the 60s. General Hospital, a popular soap opera, was created in the early 19060s during a transitional period for soaps. The social issues being questioned changed, this show particularly “combined a focus on gender-specific ‘disorders’ of the psyche with a sense that gendered roles and the problems associated with them were changing, no longer confined to the sphere of home and family” (107). This chapter focuses on normalizing and expressing family and marital issues. This leads into Chapter five: “Love in the Afternoon (The Fracturing Fantasies of the Soap Boom)” introduces the soap romances that grew in popularity throughout the 1980s.  These fantasies often lacked an “explicit connection to the issues of the day” (154), which created a reprieve from societal issues. Though 1980s soaps were popular they were short-lived. 

The last section focuses on the late 1980s to 2010s starting with Chapter six: “Struggles for Survival (Stagnation and Innovation)”. This section focuses on the convergence era when networks began struggling to make a profit. The decline was due to many reasons but mainly structural instabilities in the dramas and the network, although despite many challenges the companies adapted to current audiences and technologies. Chapter seven: “Reckoning with the Past (Reimagining Characters and Stories)” focuses on the “Stories and Characters of the soaps”(12) across this same period of time. Many shows brought back soaps challenging family and couple dynamics but in this new era they then had to decide on how to incorporate race, sexuality and gender. Chapter eight: “Can Her Stories Go On? (Soap Opera in Digital Age)” discusses this era from the 2000s to 2010s. This chapter “details the major business, production, and storytelling changes that the soaps have experienced in the 2010s” (281), these changes ultimately led to a decline of daytime soap operas. Although it has declined, soap operas are still a major and important part of American media culture and influence current social standards and traditions. 

In Her Stories, Levine does a great job of connecting the economic/technological side of broadcasting with the decade and current social standards. This is clear in part three, Chapter six analyzes the economic decline of daytime soap operas and the reasons behind that decline. Chapter seven explains how the industry tried to save these shows by bringing back and incorporating social issues, thus adapting to the current societal wants and needs. And finally, chapter eight how despite these changes current modernizations in technology have hindered and continued the decline in soap operas. These three chapters, in the same time period, help to build on each other while giving different perspectives for the current state of the broadcasting networks. Levine’s main strength in her work is her organization, her entire book is structured to give the reader the best possible understanding of the history of daytime soap operas. She is able to take a complicated history and describe all the different factors that affected and determined the current shows being broadcast. 

Although her organization is strong her topic is so broad and her summary is misleading, in the introduction she summarizes each chapter and at the beginning of each chapter, she summarizes what is about to be said. This can be helpful so the reader can follow along easier, but it also makes it difficult to connect back to the main focus in her work. The author’s introduction gave the impression that most of this monograph would explain how soap operas have impacted social and cultural standards but a lot of the book seemed to be focused on the economic growth of broadcasting networks. Yes, the author still analyzed how many of the show’s characters and plots were based on social norms in that time period, but the overall book was the entire history of Broadcasting. 

Overall I enjoyed this book, the topic and history were interesting. It makes you consider how not only are we impacted by social constructs that we watch but what and how soaps create is also dependent on how we respond and what we enjoy in that time period. Although there was less focus on social and cultural impact than I was expecting I would still recommend reading this book especially if you enjoy the economic and historical perspectives of broadcasting. 

Levine, Elana. Her Stories: Daytime Soap Opera and US Television History. Duke University Press Books, (2020). Print.