From Theory to Praxis: Gender and Sexuality Studies as an Interdisciplinary Critique

In Gender and Sexuality Studies 101, I learned a lot about the ways in which the way in which monolithic ideas and cultural hegemonies inform the ways in which people think and behave. I realized through this course the ways in which these ideas seep into every facet of human life, even through most supposedly unbiased and objective academic disciplines. As someone who has always valued the tangible and facts, the application of gender and sexuality studies critiques of what we take for granted, as “common knowledge” has really been eye-opening.
I’m planning to major in history and biology, two disciplines that, despite their different methodologies and focuses, both tend to focus on the demonstrable and “provable”. However, something about both disciplines that I’ve learned to critique from GSS 101 is the ways in which these facts are interpreted and applied. Both disciplines require logical continuity and frown upon intellectual leaps without grounding in data. Still, scientists and historians are still human, and still Foucaultian subjects not only influenced but created by the world around them.
Our discussion of feminist science studies is a great example of the ways in which my views had been challenged. I knew, of course, that science has often been misinterpreted or employed as a rhetorical tactic to reinforce societal inequality; just look at a movement like eugenics. However, I wasn’t really aware of the ways in which, down to the very textbooks we use to teach biology, the way we frame and explain biological concepts reinforces the ideologies of gender difference and heteronormativity.
Similarly, I had always heard about the phrase “history is told by the winners” and knew on some level the ways in which history has been interpreted to soften the historical oppressions of non-dominant groups and bolster the dominant groups in society. However, GSS 101 opened my eyes further on these topics. The ways in which we interpret history to impose our own hegemonic ideas was surprising. For example, I found it interesting to learn the ways in which the idea of a “traditional marriage” is a construction of our modern society. It was also interesting to learn the ways people have thought about homosexuality and heterosexuality in the past, since such terms and identities didn’t even exist in many societies and therefore, aren’t an accurate representation of the ways in which people in the past saw their lives.
I would like to pursue a project that looks at the history of science through the lens of feminist science studies, and looks at the ways in which scientific fields, especially biology and medicine, have served to reinforce ideologies of gender difference, especially around the time that “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” as terms came into being.
Through GSS 101, I’ve learned to look at the subjects I’m passionate about with a more critical eye. This course has taught me to challenge the hegemonic ideas that underlie much of human productions of knowledge. While I myself am a product of society, and can never truly free myself from its effects, I can still learn to be aware in which the ways my understandings are shaped by the society around me. Overall, I want to take what I’ve learned from this course to more fully investigate and interrogate the ways in which I understand the fields I’m passionate about.

Beneath the Surface: a Look into Invisible Disability

Beneath the Surface: a Look into Invisible Disability

 The intersection of invisible disability and gender studies is still a forming field of study. Illustrated through the work of forerunners such as Maureen Fitzgerald, Kathryn Paterson and Karen Depauw. And more clearly developed through the more recent voices of Ellen Samuels, Aimee Valeras, Margaret Vickers, Kendyl Klein, Samantha Bassler and Denarii Monroe.  Mental illness within women, especially eating disorders, is a subset of invisible disabilities studies that demonstrated a strong link with gender studies and show how physically bound the subjects are. These authors analyze the difficulties of invisible disability, particularly disclosure, and how society oppresses people with hidden disabilities.

In the article “The Hidden Disability Dilemma for the Preservation” of self Maureen Fitzgerald and Kathryn Paterson address specific difficulties of women with invisible disabilities. Published in 1995 at the forefront of gender studies in intersection with disability, “The Hidden Disability Dilemma for the Preservation” of self-relates many of the challenges women with invisible disabilities face in contemporary times. Easiest to relate is the ever present question of disclosure and consequences with both informing people of invisible disability and hiding it. This ties directly to analysis, of identity which is grounded within the studies of women with invisible disability. By focusing in on two case studies where women from Hawaii and women from Australia were compared. These two groups of women with invisible disabilities, the women from Australia with hidden Multiple Sclerosis(MS) and the women from Hawaii with Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome(TMJ), are able to convey the ways in which invisible disability affects certain ways beyond a case by case basis. One problem the women from this study face, as others with an invisible disability do, is the issue of legitimizing disability. Because invisible disability is generally not apparent to others it can be difficult to get recognition for the really impacts a condition has on an individual’s life. In the case of one woman who was deaf but did not seem that way she began carrying a white pole, not because she needed it but rather because people would not accept that she was deaf. There is a possible weight in revealing a disability, a weight on identity-based on people’s reactions to disability. Many women from this study hide the level of pain they are in and the symptoms they have for various reasons. But this isolation of themselves comes at a cost while being interviewed, many of the women admitted that they were not as happy or as fit as they used to be. There is a negative correlation between invisible disability and self-worth. This study ends with a need for invisible disability to be taken seriously so that people with them don’t have to emphasize them as much for valid assistance.

Karen Depauw constructs the significance of space in the context of the society in  “Space: The Final Frontier”: The Invisibility of Disability on the Landscape of Women’s Studies.” Through analyzing the breadth of subjects that gender studies encapsulate within intersectionality Karen Depauw noticed a lack of solid research in disability and how it connects to women, gender and identity. Published in 1996 Space: “The Final Frontier”: The Invisibility of Disability on the Landscape of Women’s Studies” is at the forefront of disability studies with Maureen Fitzgerald and Kathryn Paterson. By narrowing her view to the lens of space Karen Depauw is better able to articulate how disability dictates movement through space, also how disability can alter perceptions of space. Perception of space can be integral parts of identity and gender.  In working with space in relation to invisible disability she explains the ways in which spaces can differ based on interpretation. Her focus, particularly on mental disorders, illuminates how societies categorization of things and people can give stifling identities. Because of the individuality of invisibility disabilities, not to mention the different severities, it is limiting to categorize and clump disabled people. Furthermore to marginalize people because they do not fit into a normative format cramps them to the margins of society, into boxes that confine them. People with hidden disabilities are presented with two boxes, one in which they hide their differences and the other in which they may emphasise their differences in order to be believed and categorized as disabled.  Though there is more room for nuance than those two categories the exceptions are limited and never fully void of the decision that the individual with hidden disabilities makes about disclosure.  

The struggle of middle-aged women with chronic invisible disabilities who also work full time are argued by Margaret Vickers in “Unseen Chronic Illness and Work: Authentic Stories from “Women-Inbetween.”” Published in 2001 this article helps show many facets of being a woman and having an invisible disability. The eight women in this study explain some of the different difficulties. Like finding time for a doctor’s appointment, being assumed healthy at work, and trying to juggle a full-time career and caregiving. By adding in occupational difficulties Margaret Vickers shows another dimension of invisible disabilities effects. The added weight of gender is shown by the caregiver position that women are expected to fill, these mothers not only work full-time jobs but run households. Margaret Vickers explains how these roles stack up to burdens that leave these women not fully attending to themselves and struggling to show other people how much they are handling. Because hidden disabilities are not visible it adds to the dimensionality of whether people chose to believe in the legitimacy of these disabilities. Simple recognition of invisible disability would help in easing the weight of these women but in order to better understand their burdens society, gender roles, and other intersections must be scrutinized.

“My Body, my Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-out Discourse” by Ellen Samuels gives a more recent commentary on invisible disability. Published in 2003 this article focuses on disclosure of invisible disability. The approach of “My Body, my Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-out Discourse” is slightly unorthodox in its comparison of coming out in terms of sexuality and revealing an invisible disability. Through juxtaposing the two narratives “My Body, my Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-out Discourse” articulates the nuances of disclosure around invisible disability. Ellen Samuels explains how coming out keeps intact the binary that assumes heterosexuality and able-bodiedness are the norms and that it is necessary to reveal yourself as other if you are not strictly within those loosely defined boxes. One piece that is particularly addressed in revealing invisibility is the assumption with disabling that people are placed under but don’t necessarily want. In several people’s accounts disclosing an invisible disability are more about explaining it to others and less about accepting it yourself.  As addressed in “The Invisibility of Disability on the Landscape of Women’s Studies” is a pioneering article on disability studies with Maureen Fitzgerald and Kathryn Paterson the accusation of fraud around invisible disability is still an issue that keeps some people from disclosing at all. Ellen Samuels does an excellent job of explaining the weight and privilege that invisible disability holds: “Like racial, gender, and queer passing, the option of passing as nondisabled provides both a certain level of privilege and a profound sense of misrecognition and internal dissonance”(Samuels) Because invisible disabilities, in most circumstances, can be hidden there is consistent choice of disclosure. Unfortunately, both revealing and covering disability can have burdens. In elaborating on the issue of disclosure Ellen Samuels states a few times that people with invisible disabilities can “pass” as abled. However, even within just that word, she is still showing how disjointed they are from society and othered. People with hidden disabilities are in a weird in-between that fluctuates greatly by disclosure and can fluctuate with the severity of conditions on a day to day basis. Because hidden disabilities are a case by case dependent they have real tolls on people’s sense of identity and self-worth.

Specifically addressing mental disorders with the sector of invisible disability “Gender differences in mental health” address societal impacts on health. Through sharp analysis of statistics regarding men and women’s mental health, there are direct correlations to gender, particularly with anorexia and eating disorders. “Gender differences in mental health” show that not only is society ignoring mental illness they are often promoting it. The research, though published in 2007, holds many insights particularly in how gender relates to these illnesses. Mental disorder studies reflect how oppression can cause more people in a minority to develop them. Rooted in intersectionality, minorities are more vulnerable to mental instability and disorders. Another factor that affects mental disorders is the location, developing Arab countries women are more vulnerable and more likely to have mental instability. There is not one cause of mental illness or invisible disability and they can remain out of people’s perceptions. This can make invisible disability dangerous and endorse harmful societal norms. There needs to be recognition of invisible disability and wholesome approaches that don’t leave those with hidden disability awkwardly marginalized.

Identity is tightly associated with ability and disability. “”We don’t have a box”: Understanding hidden disability identity utilizing narrative research methodology” by Aimee Valera’s constructs the weight of hidden physical disability and explains the mental toll that it takes as well. By looking at the lives of six different people and their non-obvious physical disabilities, her study and analysis were written in 2010 provides insight into the complex layer of identity in relation to invisible disability. Core to Aimee Valeras’ argument like those of Maureen Fitzgerald, Kathryn Paterson, and Ellen Samuels is the pressure of disclosure. As framed in Aimee Valera’s study the six adults she picked chose to assimilate and push against the label disabled. Aimee Valera’s also takes the time to explain how intersectionality is essential to how people’s invisible disabilities affect their lives and identities. Researcher Aimee Valeras found about adolescent development of self-worth in conjunction with visible compared to invisible disability. One of the more recent and reliable studies showed that students with invisible disabilities had more emotional distress because of anxiety around possible exposure. To have an invisible disability takes people out of the obvious binary of able or disable: “The hidden disability experience, thus, falls in the misunderstood gap between the dominant disability paradigms, the medical model and the social model” (Valeras).

Much like the article “Gender differences in mental health,” “Why Don ‘t I Look Like Her? The Impact of Social Media on Female Body” reveals the specific impact society, especially social media, has on the mental conditions of college-aged women. Reviewing at this very specific study in 2013 of invisible disability in the form of mental illness it is easy to see how gender and white patriarchal society tie into the analysis of invisible disability. Kendyl Klein’s research show how unrealistic beauty standards have disproportionately affected young women. Additionally, her psychoanalysis provides insight into the direct ways in which social media harms women’s mental self-worth and mental stability. There are facts too that show the presence of eating disorders in college-aged women: “between 4% and 9% of college women have diagnosable eating disorders, but more frightening, 34% to 67% experience disordered eating at sub-threshold levels” (Klein). What Kendyl Klein articulates also is the endorsement of these unhealthy standards within America’s culture. The severity of eating disorders and mental illness have been dismissed by parts of society and the beauty industry. One particularly striking paragraphs of Kendyl Klein is the increased depression and suicide rates of those with eating disorders. This level of body dissatisfaction shows just how toxified societal views have become. In a personal account of Kendyl Klein, when she was struggling with body image, it is clear that her mental illness was spurred on by the media and society. Gender studies and invisible disability are tightly bound at the point of mental illness.  

Samantha Bassler constructs an argument that correlates music therapy with hidden disabilities in  “”But You Don’t Look Sick”: Dismodernism, Disability Studies and Music Therapy on Invisible Illness and the Unstable Body.” By first presenting invisibly and music therapy separately she is able to give a solid basis of both before connecting them. Similarly to many of the previous articles published before hers, published in 2014, Samantha Bassler explains the intricate issue of disclosure around hidden disability. Her article grapples with the impact that people’s disbelief around hidden disability has on people who struggle with them. What makes this article stand out is Samantha Bassler’s inclusion of music therapy as a potential avenue to help those with hidden disabilities. Samantha Bassler’s presentation of healing through music is that the music can not cure but rather helps the patient in dealing with their disability. Her final words on the matter of invisible disability tie it to feminism through looking at the normalization of society.

Tying feminism and a modern tone into the analysis of hidden disability Denarii Monroe explain the effects her own invisible disability has had on her life in her article “3 Ways My Learning Disability Affects My Life.” Written this year, Denarii Monroe explains the intricacies of living with an invisible disability.  One thing she addresses is the stigma people still have around disability and an avoidance to reveal her condition. Particularly focusing on the workplace she explains how revealing disability can cause discrimination, less pay or just not getting hired in the first place. Elaborating on occupational effects hidden disability can have she also explains the opposing argument that understanding can make a huge difference and communicating disability can relieve bad dynamics. Essentially reiterating that disclosure around invisible disability is really an individual decision and can help or hurt depending on the situation. Intersecting invisible disability to feminism Denarii Monroe argues that feminists are working for the equality of people and that people with invisible disabilities are among the marginalized. She creates an even stronger argument for intersectionality in her criticism of capitalism, patriarchy and the way in which conformity is institutionalized. The intersections minority people have are layers of oppression and greatly affects a person’s privilege. Truly intersectionality is at the core of starting to understand the complexities with individuals and even within invisible disability. Because there are many forms and accumulations of oppression that go unseen and acknowledged. Denarii Monroe explains the weight invisible disability can have on self-worth and confidence. Hiding disability and openly sharing it both come with their own burden. With sharing the information of invisible disability people sometimes doubt it’s legitimacy, categorizing the person as disabled or at least associating the condition with the person. To conceal the disability leaves the person open to the risk and vulnerability of exposure. Denarii Monroe concludes with the need to deconstruct societal boxes and embrace differences.

Intersectionality is core to understanding marginalization and different oppressions of society. Invisible disability and gender studies are better understood in the context of each other. The articles by Maureen Fitzgerald, Kathryn Paterson Karen Depauw, Ellen Samuels, Aimee Valeras, Margaret Vickers, Kendyl Klein, Samantha Bassler and Denarii Monroe provide a small window into an intersection of health and gender that is often overlooked. By focusing in on mental illness within the intersection of invisible disability and gender studies it is clear the influences society has.  


Bassler, Samantha. (2014).  “”But You Don’t Look Sick”: Dismodernism, Disability Studies, and Music Therapy on Invisible Illness and the Unstable Body.” Voices: A World Form for Music Therapy.

Depauw, K. P. (1996). “”Space: The final frontier”: The invisibility of disability on the landscape of women’s studies.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 17(3), 19- 23.

(2007) “Gender differences in mental health” Singapore Med Journal.

Image Fitzgerald, M.H., & Paterson, K.A. (1995). “The hidden disability dilemma for the preservation of self”. Journal of Occupational Science, 2, 13-21.

Klein, Kendyl M. (2013) “Why Don ‘t I Look Like Her? The Impact of Social Media on Female Body” Claremont McKenna College.

Megan Jones, “‘Gee, You Don’t Look Handicapped. .’: Why I Use a White Cane to Tell People That I’m Deaf,” Electric Edge, July-August 1997

Monroe, Denarii. (2016) “3 Ways My Learning Disability Affects My Life” Everyday Feminism.

Samuels, E.J (2003). “My body, my closet: Invisible disability and the limits of coming-out discourse.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 9, 233- 255

Valeras, A. B. (2010). “”We don’t have a box”: Understanding hidden disability identity utilizing narrative research methodology.” Disability Studies Quarterly, 30(3), 1- 23.

Vickers, M. (2001). “Unseen chronic illness and work: authentic stories from “women in-between””. Gender in Management, 16(2), 62-74.



This class has not changed my opinions and beliefs on issues of gender and sexuality. What it has done is help me realize how basic and primitive my understanding of the issues was and how many issues there are. For instance, I have always supported anti-discrimination and hate crime law and I have never believed that people fall into two distinct and “appropriate” genders. Now I understand that heteronormativity is the belief system that our regressive Republican legislature used as a weapon to implement HB2. “Two bathrooms, two sexes.” Those same legislators used their own ethnocentric views of what is “normal” to mandate who uses which.

After taking this class, I think of gender as more fluid, like a spectrum. Most guys are either more or less masculine than me–not exactly the same. My Contemporary Media Analysis focused on Caster Semenya, an intersex track athlete. Like our Republican legislature, track officials have approached Semenya’s gender from their own ethnocentric, heteronormative perspective in an attempt to “label” her a male and conclude that she has a “disorder.” While she does have some male biological characteristics, I believe that Semenya’s gender can only be fully understood when viewed from her perspective. Cultural relativism requires it.

I am very interested in both protecting and empowering people like Semenya who are marginalized by our culture’s views of gender and sexuality. After reading Normal Life, by Dean Spade, I am aware and intrigued by the notion that laws which focus on individual bad acts can actually be used by conservatives or neoliberals to limit or eliminate systemic protections like school busing. “Discrimination law’s reliance on the perpetrator perspective creates the false impression that the previously excluded or marginalized group is now equal, that fairness has been restored. (Spade 42)” I would have never considered the possibility that hate crime and anti-discrimination laws can be harmful. My focus would simply have been how to make them stronger. Spade, a transsexual himself, helped me understand that when we trade systemic protections like affirmative action for individual anti-discrimination protections we lose sight of the bigger picture. I believe we need both individual anti-discrimination laws and systemic protections. Now I realize, however, that if we are not careful our opponents will play them against each other in an attempt to dilute them.

To expand on what I have learned, I plan to pursue research regarding the potential tension between anti-discrimination and hate crime legislation and population level protections. If Alan Freeman (Legitimizing Racial Discrimination Through Anti-Discrimination Law: A Critical Review of the Supreme Court Doctrine) is correct that crime laws individualize racism and as a “result systemic racism is rendered invisible,” then all marginalized groups have an enormous problem. If we can confirm this conflict between good intentions, we have to figure out how to address it. We can’t forego individual protections in order to empower populations. We must find a way for protection and empowerment to coexist.











Freeman, Alan David. “(,1 2 1/,1( –” Hein Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2016.

Spade, Dean. Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law. Brooklyn, NY: South End, 2011. Print.

From Theory to Praxis: What Gender Studies Taught Me About Me

Zamir Ode

Throughout the semester, I was introduced to many sub-fields of gender studies. Many were interesting to me, like fat studies, marriage structure, and masculinity. But what really interested me was the connection between masculinity, body image, fat studies, and how much I could relate my own life to it, especially the athletics portion of it.
Ever since I was young, I was always encouraged to do sports and live a healthy life style. I started wrestling in high school, and that is when I truthfully started to care about my body image and muscularity. Now, as a sophomore in college who entered his 6th year in the sport of wrestling, all I think about is what I have eaten, what I will do for a work out, was my work out enough to burn off what I ate, what I can eat later, and how many times a day I need to work out. Using the research for my literature review, I read books from different fields like fat studies and psychology to better understand and explain how these are connected. It shocked me to how much this actually has to do with me. Reading the Adonis Complex, I realized that a lot of men, probably myself included, have a bad body image because they don’t feel as if they are “big enough”. These men get negative self images of themselves due to what is called “Muscular Dysmorphia”. This mental block these men have leads to either a life of obsessing about working out and dieting, or an eating disorder. I have learned in this class that eating disorders are not a “feminine” thing, and that the crisis of male eating disorders is a growing one. I will admit, in 6 years of wrestling I have participated in very unhealthy actions to do what I could to make weight, or get back to the thin and cut body I was used to during wrestling season. Wrestling has definitely taught me a lot of good lessons, but it also has made me do things I am not proud of.
I will use my new knowledge from gender studies to help give back to the wrestling community when I graduate school. Currently, I am an economics major and that really does not have anything to with the topics of fat studies, body image, and masculinity. However, I want to be a part time wrestling coach along with my job whatever it may be. But, I will use my position as an authority figure in children’s lives to teach them the importance of healthy weight loss, and a healthy body image. I feel like at a high school level, it is easier to be a successful wrestler without practicing the very unhealthy “yo-yo” effect with their weight, which involves repeated rapid weight loss and weight gain over a few months’ time. As a coach, I plan on engraining kids with these lessons to help them live healthier lives and further lower the high risk these wrestlers have at getting an eating disorder.
Gender studies 101 this semester really taught me a lot of interesting stuff, especially about myself. Realizing that these fields have really impacted my life for the past 6 years, I realized it is time for a change in myself, and time to make a change in the world. Even though wrestlers make up a very small percent of the population, I intend to use my new found knowledge from gender studies to help contribute to the sport that made me the young man I am today by educating the youth of the sport about the possible harms and how to avoid them.

Theory to Praxis: GSS Knowledge at Home & Abroad

Over my semester as a study of gender & sexuality studies, I have encountered a multitude of concepts, theories, authors, and readings that have lead me to develop a new understanding of the world and its workings. Beyond what I have learned in the formal setting of class, I have learned how to approach my society and other cultures with a new outlook on the structures in place. This course in gender & sexuality studies will provide me with valuable knowledge as I rapidly approach my junior year study abroad experience. I intend to go to St. Petersburg, Russia for my junior year to continue my study of political science & Russian language & culture. I will bring several key concepts from gender & sexuality studies to my abroad experience that will undoubtedly guide me to be a more respectful guest and to exercise cultural relativism in my host country.

Having read Lila Abu-Lughod’s “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others,” I have come to understand the danger of approaching new cultures with a savior complex, be it intentionally or subliminally. In the often-ethnocentric perspective I have received as a student in the United States, Russia is very frequently presented as a country that is historically behind the times. One example that comes to my mind is that imperial serfdom is vehemently vilified, while the true horror of American slavery is often glossed over in the classroom. Vestiges of Cold War biases constantly tint the way Russia and its people are framed, in both the academic setting and within the news media. The same attitude often reflected onto the Middle East can be seen toward Russia, as well: the savior complex. Russia is constantly portrayed as deeply sexist and backward compared to the West, which propagates a dangerous notion that these women need us to save them from the evils of their repressive society. This portrayal rests on the highly problematic progress narrative that we attempted to deconstruct throughout the semester. Furthermore, all societies are sexist. It strikes me as a deflection to address our own unjust power structures to pass the buck to a “more sexist country.”

Connected to the savior complex is a key concept that was completely new to me this semester: homonationalism. Russian President Vladimir Putin has supported undeniably homophobic legislation and civil society has displayed violence toward LGBTQ individuals. However, much like our discussion of the Middle East, homonationalism has permeated through our thoughts on queerness in Russia. Despite the marginalization of queer identities in the United States, our (recent) legalization of same-sex marriage and our general acceptance of white, upper class gay couples can lead to criticism of Russia’s extreme anti-gay laws because, hey, at least the U.S. is better than them! I have certainly heard my fair share of Russia and Middle Eastern countries labeled as homophobic and anti-gay, but it wasn’t until GSS this semester that I realized that, despite American criticism, we certainly don’t live in a society accepting of most queer identities and lifestyles.

This semester has challenged the way I think about nearly everything. I no longer think of anything as “natural,” and no longer accept aspects of my culture as normatively right or better. I look forward to bringing my new knowledge on my adventure abroad and beyond.


Sex Positivity vs. Bodily Autonomy

This blog post critiques the concept of sex positivity for implying that sex is always positive, nice, and valuable to all people. For people on the asexual spectrum, that is not the case. For people who consider themselves sexual but are survivors of rape or assault, sex is more complicated than “nice.” Instead, it proposes a sexual ethos of “bodily autonomy”:

in lieu of sex positivity, i propose a sexual ethos of bodily autonomy.  i believe that all people have the right to dictate how others interact with them sexually.  i believe that all people should be free to structure their sex lives and pursue their sexual interests in whatever way makes them most comfortable, happy, and fulfilled, as long as they are not violating the bodily autonomy of another.  the central concept of bodily autonomy is not that sex is nice, but that your body is yours, and no one else’s.

bodily autonomy attaches no value judgments to sex — it treats sexual contact as an activity that comes with potential risks and rewards like any other.  sex is just a thing you can do with your body, if you choose to.  there is room for the a person to like or dislike sex, have sex frequently or rarely, to hate sex, to fear sex, to love sex, to want sex, and on and on.  the statement “sex is good!” makes no sense in terms of bodily autonomy — one would instead say, “sex is good for me.

bodily autonomy centers consent explicitly, not implicitly.  it leaves room for a vast multiplicity of experiences with and feelings toward sex without erasure or judgment.  sex positivity is moralistic, but bodily autonomy is flexible.  it’s a big umbrella with room under it for all of us, not just those who enjoy or desire regular sexual contact with others.  what’s more, it’s an ethos that makes me feel safe as a sexual assault survivor, rather than alienated and threatened.  for that reason alone, i think it’s a concept well worth exploring.

“Superdads”, How Fathers are Changing

Zamir Ode

Professor Gonzalez

GSS 101



Book Review on Superdads by Gayle Kaufman


More often than not, moms are associated with picking the kids up from school, joining the PTA, and helping kids with their homework on top of their day job; while dads are seen as the breadwinner for the households. Up until the mid twentieth century, the traditional family household was the most popular household structure. In the traditional family, the husband is supposed to devote his life to work to make enough for his family, while the wife is supposed to take care of the kids and household chores. However, roles of both parents have been changing since the 1950s. According to Gayle Kaufman’s book, Superdads, there are three types of dads: old, new, and super (Kaufman 2013). By going through and interviewing 70 different fathers, Kaufman was able to create these categories based on the information given by each father. Through out the book, Kaufman shows through these interviews from different “categories” of dads how each differ with the involvement in their child’s life and how the gender roles of parenting are changing for both men and women.

In Kaufman’s book, she starts to lay out her point about the changing gender roles by describing how dads are starting to become more involved in their children’s lives and leaving behind the title of breadwinner. According to Kaufman, dads can be broken down into three categories: “old”, “new”, and “super”. Kaufman goes on to define these different categories of dads. “Old” dads are defined as the dads who still follow the traditional family household belief, where the man has a job and is the only source of income to support his family while the woman stays home and takes care of the kids. The “new” dads are defined as those who try their best to balance work and family life. These fathers spend time with their kids on the weekdays, but weekends are when the most time is spent with their kids. Then, there are “super” dads. These dads put the caregiver role ahead of the breadwinner role. These dads want to spend as much time as possible with their kids, and feel like they have an equal responsibility of raising the kids. Defining these types of dads early in the book was an important way for Kaufman to set up the flow of her book. Throughout the book, Kaufman shows how these types of dads make choices in response to certain variables of life, i.e. stress, time, and money.

Kaufman begins to describe how these different categories of dads have stress level that vary. When interviewing the 70 fathers, Kaufman found that the “old” dads who are so focused on being a breadwinner were reported to have the highest level of stress regarding work/family life. These dads are so worried about getting extra hours at work to make extra money to be able to support their families as well as worrying about family issues causes high levels of work/family related stress. Kaufman uses one of the fathers, Erik, as an example. In the introduction she introduces him as a father of 2 children who recently took a job at a larger landscape firm for the better economic opportunities. These opportunities came with longer hours which cost him time with his kids. These new hours made Erik have more to balance regarding work and family, which led to more work/family related stress. However, the “super” dads have the lowest stress levels regarding work/family life because they put caregiving first and then make flexible work schedules that will allow them to change hours or drop a shift if something family related comes up. In most interviews done by Kaufman, each father told her that they experienced a changed outlook on work once they had kids. Fathers were quoted to say that before kids, they were spending a lot of time at work, even offering to stay after hours and work overtime since they did not have any other big responsibilities that needed as much time. However, once these fathers had their first born, these fathers were now trying to juggle a full work week to make enough money to support their new family on top of getting home early enough to spend time with their new born and take part in the caregiving process. Multiple fathers said in their interviews that if it were possible, they would change occupations in order to spend more time with their children.

Kaufman furthers the differentiation of the three “classifications” of fathers by asking these 70 fathers about leave from work when their child is first born. It is expected that when a woman is giving birth, they take a maternity leave to take care of the baby for a few weeks. Even though there is no legal requirement for a paid maternity, a lot of companies and institutions have a maternity leave policy. Fathers, on the other hand, are not expected to miss time when their child is born. Kaufman writes that by the 1990s fathers were taking time off for their child’s birth, but it was minimal. Now, fathers are able to take more time off for their kids, but the amount of time they are able to take off is decided by a few economic factors, since this leave from work is unpaid. During the interviews, Kaufman was able to see a pattern of timetables fathers were bale to take off: no time to a short period of time (a few days), about a week or two weeks, and then more than two weeks. These time allotments were mostly dependent on economic status of the family, and income levels of the father. Fathers with higher incomes were more often likely to take more time off when their child was born than those fathers with low income levels. One of the interviews Kaufman did was with a father named Barry, who is a gardener. Barry explained that he was only able to take about two days for the birth of his daughter because that is all he could afford. Since he was paid by the hour, hours he did not spend gardening for people was less money he had to support his family. Even though fathers are now supposed to play a bigger role in the caregiver aspect of their child’s life, the father is still expected to be the financial crutch the family can lean on when the mother is out of work (Kaufman). These fathers still had to go to work to make sure there was money to support their wives and now their new born children. To me, this point about unpaid paternity leave is a positive and negative way to further the point that gender roles for parents are changing. On the positive side, Kaufman shows that fathers who are able to take the time off to be with their new born can be super dads, however, they are only able to be super dads if they have high income jobs. Even though Barry the gardener wants to be a super dad and take off as much time as possible to be with his newborn, he is unable to since his low income household needs all the money it can get. Throughout the book, Kaufman talked about father’s roles changing with regards to involvement in their kids lives. However, this point almost makes it seem like she believes you have to be at least upper middle class to be able to take the time needed to spend with your child, and be a super dad.

Kaufman did a lot of research through different fields of scholarly papers and books. However, her main method for data collection was interviews. Kaufman states in the introduction of the book that her method for research was interviewing different fathers. Kaufman interviewed 70 fathers, and put these fathers into three categories that she defined as different types of dads. Then, she asked questions to each father regarding how time, money, and work impact their relationship with their kids. This book did a good job showing how these different factors impacted the different groups of dads differently.

Throughout the book, Kaufman references multiple professionals in multiple fields, being psychology, sociology, and gender studies. However, the professional that is brought up and referenced more than the others is Arlie Hochshild and her now-classic Second Shift. In the Second Shift, Hochshild writes about the revolution of women starting to flood the work force and how the roles of employed mothers are changing. Hochshild also compares these to change in men’s roles, which to her are “lagging behind women’s changes.” Kaufman uses the Second Shift platform, but uses it for the change in men’s roles. Kaufman acknowledges that women’s roles have changed immensely over the past 50 years, but says that now men’s roles are changing. The entirety of Kaufman’s book was differentiating the types of dads, and also about men’s roles are changing in the family dynamic. Men used to associate the number of hours worked with masculinity (Kaufman 2013). However, this misconception about masculinity is changing, and men are abandoning the role of breadwinner and becoming more involved in their children’s lives. These changing roles of men show how Kaufman uses the basis of Hochshild’s Second Shift to further her own point.

Gayle Kaufman is an author, professor, wife, and mother. Kaufman currently is a professor at Davidson College in the sociology department. She gave birth to her and her husband’s second child after her husband finished law school. Her husband, Kevin Bell, decided to stay home and take care of the kids while Kaufman continued to teach classes at Davidson. Her husband was the inspiration to find out more data about the changing roles of fathers, and write the book Superdads.

One strength of this book was they way Kaufman made her data personal. I was very impressed with how well this book was able to differentiate the types of fathers based on interview answers, as well as show the pattern that follows through each group. In each chapter, Kaufman provides specific answers from each father to further pursue the point. However, to me this book could have been organized better. The book has an introduction, which shows the main focus of the book, which was to point out the three types of dads and how they differ in family roles. Then the book goes into time constraints and paternity leave, then back to the main focus for the rest of the book. I believe that chapters 2 and 3 could have been broken down and spread across the book rather than have their own chapters. I believe that it took away from the book because the organization of information was confusing.

In Kaufman’s book Superdads, a new viewpoint on father’s roles is presented. The book breaks down the three types of fathers: old, new, and super. By interviewing 70 different fathers from around the country, Kaufman was able to make these classifications, and put these 70 fathers into one of the three. Throughout the book Kaufman shows how each type of father differs with different economic and social conflicts regarding time with family. This was a very well written book, as well as it was very interesting. I believe her method of research was perfect, and her method really added to the realness of the information.


Work Cited

Kaufman, G. (2013). Superdads: How fathers balance work and family in the 21st century. NY: New York University Press.




Governed Through Choice

In Jennifer M. Denbow’s book, Governed through Choice: Autonomy, Technology, and the Politics of Reproduction, she tackles the issue of reproductive choice and its paradoxical relationship with women’s autonomy and governmental interventions, specifically in the current day in the United States. She illuminates the contradiction between how women’s autonomy is defended by politicians and the steps that they take that serve to limit this autonomy, criticising this course of action and arguing against it. She explains that women in the United States are facing more and more severe scrutiny and restrictions on their reproductive rights and choices, citing the r
ecord breaking number of laws passed in recent years to restrict abortions.

Denbow splits her book into three main arguments that uncover some of these contradictions in the political discourse that surrounds choice and autonomy. The first is that autonomy in the realm of reproductive regulation is often understood as being “proper self-governance or self-management,” and how this perspective allows for the judgement of women’s reproductive choices and is used as justification for intervention when these choices are deemed improper or irrational. The “proper” choice is the one seen as more moral or appropriate given the woman’s situation, an idea and perspective that becomes overbearing and dominant. An example of this is the idea of a woman on welfare choosing to have another child or a woman with a good income choosing not to have any children andthe judgement that these women would face for this decision, as it would be seen as the irrational or less moral choice. There is also the added legal perspective in which the “proper choice” is pushed by law, such as women facing restrictions when trying to get an abortion. For instance, the Texas sonogram law requires women to undergo a sonogram at least twenty-four hours prior to having an abortion. This law, which proponents of argued increased women’s autonomy by allowing them to make a more informed choice, actually takes away autonomy by implying that the “proper choice” is not having an abortion and that going through with it is less moral or somehow deviant. This creates a situation in which, despite the pronounced respect for “choice”, only certain “choices” are considered “correct”. The second argument is that developments in reproductive technology, such as sterilization, sonograms, and better contraceptives, have changed how reproduction is perceived, and thus how it is governed. While these developments seem to increase women’s ability to manage their reproduction and therefore increase their ability to self-govern, these changes also increase the scrutiny of their decisions because there are now perceptions of choices that are “better” or “more rational”. In the third argument, Denbow explains that there are multiple understandings of autonomy. She outlines two main understandings of autonomy. There is the traditional understanding of autonomy critiqued by Denbow in the first argument that explains proper self-governance and autonomy to be synonymous. Lawmakers and politicians rhetorically elide the differences between self-governance and autonomy, which Denbow opposes. Instead, she seems to prefer the alternate understanding of autonomy in terms of being “critique and transformation,” based on the philosophies of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler. This view of autonomy “promote[s] resistance to discriminatory and oppressive norms,” and challenges existing understandings of the female body (p. 5). It emphasizes the impact of choice and the interaction between the power to select and government.

To contextualize her writing, it is important to note Denbow’s background. Denbow is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She specializes in public law, political theory, reproductive law and politics, feminist studies, and science and technology studies. She received her law degree from the University of California, Berkeley, where she also earned her Ph.D. studying jurisprudence and social policy, emphasizing women, gender, and sexuality.

Her background in law and political science is evident in her writing. While she does not detail her methods in a specific section, Denbow’s methods entail very statistically and politically centered arguments, relying heavily on both personal and legal case studies. She brings this topic of reproductive choice and control out of the domain of health studies and women’s studies and into the lens of political science, citing many statistics to bolster her arguments. In her opening paragraph, she contextualizes her argument by stating: “In 2011, states enacted a an unprecedented 92 provisions restricting abortions, which overwhelmingly surpassed the previous record of 34 in 2005” (Denbow, p. 1). She goes on to explain that state politicians appeal to women’s autonomy as a way to justify these restrictive measures, but yet are actually serving to control women’s reproduction. A specific example of this is the extensive ultrasound mandates that have been passed in a multitude of states, such as Texas’s Woman’s Right to Know Act. These laws increase scrutiny of women and of their bodies while under the guise of providing them with more information about abortion and enabling a more complete form of consent. Lawmakers promote these laws as a way of informing women and providing them with autonomy, while in actually are simply restricting their rights and interfere with decision making.

Another way Denbow approaches her argument and bolsters her explanation of autonomy is by invoking philosophers and theorists like Kant, Foucault, and Rousseau. She frequently frames her ideas with the concepts of others, especially for her discussion of autonomy. Denbow explains that many people, by holding onto a traditional understanding of what autonomy is, apply a sort of circuitous logic to reproductive rights. There is a historical understanding that autonomy is “proper self-governance,” and thus is reflective of one’s ability to make rational decisions (Denbow, p. 2). There is a perception of a better way to conduct oneself and in order to be seen as autonomous and to be capable of autonomy, one must conduct themselves in this manner. This then translates to judgments of women’s choices, such as a woman choosing to have children if she is on welfare being deemed as irrational. Other examples Denbow gives include choosing to have an abortion and choosing to be sterilized, especially if you are a young, middle-class woman, which are choices that are frequently seen as being foolish or rash. Denbow critiques the logic that “intervention in a woman’s decision making can actually promote autonomy,” as people who follow this logic see themselves as preventing a woman from making an “irrational” decision (Denbow, p. 3). She points out that the laws passed to “promote autonomy” with added interventions, such as the aforementioned sonogram laws, actually reduce autonomy. Denbow’s preferred idea of autonomy as critique and transformation was founded on the philosophies of Foucault and Butler, whereas the historical view of autonomy as proper self-governance stems from Rousseau and Kant. Denbow argues that Rousseau’s and Kant’s interpretations of autonomy were foundational to Western beliefs and politics. She summarizes both of their definitions of autonomy to be “adherence to self-given law,” and explains that this idea is essential to modern Western political thinking (p. 19). Kant interpreted autonomy as “analytically separating oneself from one’s desires and impulses in order to legislate rationally for oneself,” and thus focused more on the moral aspects of autonomy, which has been incorporated into the political realm in that only those who are deemed rational have both the capacity and right to autonomy (p. 2). Denbow points out that from a historical perspective, certain groups of people (i.e. women, slaves, people of color, etc.) were not granted full rights as they were seen to lack the ability to govern themselves. In contrast, Foucault and Butler approach autonomy from a poststructuralist perspective, arguing that “construction of the subject rather than undermining any possibility for agency, actually serves as the condition of possibility for it” (p. 19). The mere possibility that there are multiple courses of action we could take creates the conditions for power, but this power presumes a free subject. This provides the basis for Denbow’s argument that government’s role in reproductive law works with the ideas of surveillance and autonomy. Denbow also expands her examination of Foucault to include his idea of governmentality, applying it to how the option to abort (among other choices women must make in regards to reproduction) provides the possibility for governance and restrictions, and that this thus changes how women’s actions are scrutinized. In fact, Foucault provides the title for her book, writing that we “can be governed through choice,” (p. 4). Because of the mere presence of an option, it opens the opportunity for one choice to be seen as more valid than another depending on the situation, and thus leads to a “moral evaluation” of women, playing into Denbow’s idea of autonomy as critique and transformation.

In addition to the historical perspective Denbow provided for Kant’s and Rousseau’s understanding of autonomy, she also provides fairly extensive historical context to better understand the current political situation on reproductive choice. She particularly focuses on the history of sterilization and abortion and how these concepts and the opinions surrounding them have changed over time. Denbow points out that “historically and continuing into the present, women who are deemed unfit [for motherhood] are in danger of involuntary sterilization while those who are deemed fit face barriers to accessing sterilization,” applying Foucault’s idea of moral evaluation and the scrutiny of choice (p. 22). In both the instances of voluntary and involuntary sterilizations, experts are regulating women’s choices as there is a perception that these women cannot govern themselves. While this idea of a “superior choice” is most often applied to women who choose to get abortions, Denbow explains that women who voluntarily undergo sterilizations face this critique as well. In both the cases of informed consent laws for abortions and for sterilization, Denbow argues that these laws “increase surveillance, violate liberty, and treat women as less-than in denying them the ability to make decisions for themselves,” (p. 185). Women are not seen as having the autonomy to make this decision themselves, particularly when the decision involves her rejecting motherhood. This idea ties into her bigger idea that technology acts as a destabilizing force in the realm of reproduction, particularly this act of voluntary sterilization in that it disrupts the connection between womanhood and motherhood. Women are seen as being “irrational” for choosing to undergo voluntary sterilization, and thus their autonomy is reduced as they are not seen as making the proper choice. Denbow incorporates Donna Haraway’s ideas to argue that a sterilized body might be interpreted as a “cyborg figure in which organism and machine are united and intertwined,” partially due to the relatively recentness of voluntary sterilizations (p. 22). While this seems to be a bit of a stretch, as a woman’s body remains as a living, non-mechanical vessel despite being sterilized, there is value in illuminating this inherent connection between womanhood and motherhood and how sterilization and other reproductive technologies disrupt this idea of woman as intrinsically maternal. The cyborg figure calls into question the “natural” and points to “alternative understandings of humanity, technology, nature, reproduction, and gender,” (p. 189). It challenges the assumptions we make about women’s bodies and their relation to the world. Alternately, some reproductive technologies, such as in-vitro fertilization and other technologies that Denbow refers to as “for natural reproduction”, actually serve to reinforce the female body as maternal as the non-reproductive female body is seen as deviant and dysfunctional.  These technologies, specifically IVF, may be scientifically unnatural ways of reproducing, but they still reinforce the centrality of woman as mother as they enable women to give birth and “fix” the “dysfunction” of not being able to bear children, and therefore work to sustain this association. Additionally, the reliability of birth control has changed how we perceive pregnancy in many ways. Pregnancy is now seen as much more of a choice and something that is intentional, which impacts the perception of women who are pregnant and the course of action they take from there.  Procreation is now seen as a voluntary act, a change in which technology has played a major role and now serves to create an idea of “responsible procreation”. Because procreation is now a choice, it is open to scrutiny.

Another method Denbow uses is referring to case studies to further her arguments. She uses a personal perspective to explain how sterilization is perceived in our modern society, giving the example of her friend who was voluntarily sterilized. This friend was seen as someone extremely fit for motherhood – a young, white, attorney – and thus her choice to not bear children and eliminate the possibility of ever bearing children troubled many people as it disrupted the assumption that all women are meant to be mothers, particularly those who are deemed “fit”. Denbow describes people’s confusion and astonishment at her choice, and their assertions that she would regret it. This friend also struggled to receive approval from doctors to undergo this procedure. However, Denbow also illuminates that women who are seen as “less fit”, such as minority women, particularly those who are incarcerated, do not face these same restrictions as their sterilization is not deemed irrational. In fact, these women are often involuntarily sterilized, something Denbow talked about somewhat briefly and could have expanded upon more. She does touch upon the intersectionality of race, class, and gender, and the impacts that that has upon these perceptions of women, and particularly how this affects minority women’s ability to be perceived as fit to be a mother.

In addition to these personal case studies, she also demonstrates her legal background with her use and analysis of a legal archive of case studies to bolster her arguments and explain the history of reproductive choice and how it is being governed now. For instance, she investigates the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court case Gonzales v. Carhart, in which the congressional Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act was upheld. She explains that politicians argued that this ban protected women, but in reality fit with her framework of autonomy as proper self-governance as it encourages women to make the “proper choice” to not have a late term abortion without actually advancing women’s autonomy and freedom to choose. The law depicts women as victims, where abortion is seen “merely as a necessary escape hatch,” rather than a valid choice (p. 20). She uses a variety of different court cases and analysis of laws to provide background and further the development of this connection between governmentality and autonomy.

This book, while it has many strengths, is lacking in some areas. Denbow makes an attempt to make her work more diverse and representative, even going so far as to critique other authors, such as Lee Edelman’s work on reproductive futurism, for their under-exploration of issues such as race and class. While Denbow does discuss the added complexity that these factors impact reproductive norms, it could have been more in depth. She discusses these factors more in the extremes, targeting incarcerated women of color and poor women specifically. Her work would have benefitted from discussing more minority women and the reproductive expectations they face, focusing not just on incarcerated black women but also the average woman of color and people of other ethnicities, and the intersectionality of the factors of race and class. There is also little discussion of queer women and how their identity as queer impacts these issues. She tends to touch upon these issues without truly going in depth. In addition, by not detailing her methods, it is difficult to precisely determine how she garners her information. While one can extrapolate from her work what her primary methods entail, details such as whether she analyzed legal case studies herself or worked off of someone else’s analysis are left unclear.

Denbow is able to articulate how paradoxical the current situation regarding reproductive choice in the United States is in terms of governmentality and autonomy, detailing how politicians purport to increase women’s autonomy while in actuality add more restrictive measures. Her three-pronged argument was able to paint a complete picture of this struggle for autonomy and the ways in which it has been restricted, and how technology has impacted this. Her use of other philosophers and a wide variety of sources provides a diverse perspective as well as historical background to better contextualize her arguments. This book was certainly illuminating and informative on many aspects of reproductive choice that are not often considered. A particularly interesting concept was Donna Haraway’s “cyborg theory” as it this idea of sterilized women as “other” and somewhat mechanical was not something I had previously considered. I believe that everyone could gain new insights and perspectives from this book, but that it would be particularly illuminating for politicians to read, specifically those lobbying for more restrictions on women’s reproductive choice. Though it may not alter their opinions, there is a chance that being able to better understand how their fight for women’s “autonomy” is actually serving as restrictive. Understanding how the notion of autonomy is being manipulated may help people to understand how these laws depict as incapable of governing themselves and restrict their ability to choose.

Contemporary Media Analysis: Selling Sex or Scent?

In today’s globalized market, fragrance companies have turned to what will travel best. In the face of intense competition gripping the senses of consumers, campaigns must go farther than simply market the fragrance itself. They must sell another yet more desirable product: sex. And it’s selling. The global fragrance industry now holds a $36 billion market share, with Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, and Hugo Boss at the lead. One must ask, are these companies selling sex or scent?

Brand and product (range) typically serve as the only verbal components of fragrance ads and play a prominent role in the marketing strategy. Fragrance names and other verbal components are often connected with mood rather than with the description of some factual property or properties (Freitas 3). Thus, their associative meaning is largely dependent both on brand image and advertising strategy that forms a sort of symbolic synesthesia that connects visual, auditory, and olfactory images: the graphic forms of the inscribed name, the sound of the spoken name, and the fragrance. It is thus not surprising that names and images evoking glamor, eroticism, exoticism, and sexuality are recurrent. Also unsurprisingly, in their quest for eroticized marketing, fragrance producers make more than a few flagrant and presumptive statements about gender through the use of models and pictorial cues. These sensuous, pictorial cues divide women and men into four strictly heterosexual categories: the femme fatale, the Don Juan, the ‘natural man’, and the ‘natural woman’ (Voogt 5).

gucci-00052The femme fatale is presented as a seductive and mysterious woman whose charm ensnares her heterosexual lovers. Consider Gucci’s ENVY. Gucci’s femme fatale here looks on lustfully as a man sucks her finger. The consumer should envy her because she has obtained this man through her sexuality. She is in control. Yet the most notable detail of this advert is that the viewer relates this message only through the experience of the man. He is intoxicated. He is overcome with her allure. It is as if the woman can only display her power through the presence of the man, making a provocative statement regarding her sexuality and individuality (A Scent of Corruption 3). Though ENVY’s femme fatale rejects any posture of submission but rather empowered through her own means, this empowerment stems only from her sexualization and she holds the upper hand only in lust and love (Freitas 5).

croppeddvbfragranceThe femme fatale finds her cultural counterpoint in the Don Juan of the industries’ hyper-sexualized advertising. He is presented as a hunter, rather a trapper. Yet he makes only a small investment in each prey, shooting a smile as an arrow (Freitas 4). This is perfectly visualized in Beckham’s intimately BECKHAM NIGHT. Beckham is pictured here as a man that associates with high society, holding the female model in his submission, yet lacking an explicitly sexual position, intimating independence and emotionally detachment. He is strong and empowered with his arm locked around her neck which seems to give her a sort of intoxicated pleasure, which once again sells women’s sexuality short as it highlights her need for a man to desire her and the ease at which she submits to him.

daisy-marc-jacobs-fragrance-adThe second dominant construct in fragrance advertisement is that of the ‘natural woman’ and the ‘natural man.’ The ‘natural woman’ is portrayed as a flower-child or sportswoman, one that casts aside the artificiality of corporatism and society and uses light, fresh fragrances. She is featured in Marc Jacob’s DAISY, where the dark evening gown and club setting of the femme fatale are exchanged for lighter colors and outdoor flower fields with breezes and sunlight that envelop her (Freitas 7)The ‘natural woman’ finds her male equivalent in, of course, the ‘natural man.’ The ‘natural man’ will not be found in a bed of flowers. In Dolce & Gabanna SPORT, all feminine items are done away with. The young fragile girl is replaced by a chiseled male model, simply wearing a pair of shorts and displaying his impressive, muscular torso. The ‘natural man’ poses against the ancient stone of a Hellenistic stadium that compliments his skin tone and visually immerses his body in rock through strategic composition and color manipulation. Like the ‘natural woman,’ the evening light of the Don Juan is replaced with a bright noon sun. The ‘natural woman’ then is one who is young and innocent, in perfect harmony with nature, and who claims no power over man with the retraction of explicit sexuality.

original_theonesportThe dichotomy for women is clear: either power through sex or innocence through nature. Femininity and masculinity exist in very rigid structures, where both genders are hyper-sexualized and lack fluidity. Women are emotional beings who desire the allure of men. Men are detached and fulfil the ‘tall, dark, and handsome’ cliché, with little room left for other else. Artists take constructs solidified by mass marketing and present them as a heterosexual paradigm of womanhood and manhood. These adverts elevate enticement, sex, and lust, rather than knowledge or health as desirable. They present paradigms to a highly impressionable, materialistic post-modern America, who seek to use their scents to meek this market’s one-dimensional definition of desirable.

A Scent of Corruption. 18 November 2007.

Freitas, Elsa. “Gendered adverts: an analysis of female and male images in contemporary perfume ads.” Comunicação e Sociedade, vol. 21, 2012, pp. 95 – 107.  May 2011.

Voogt, Peter. Boys will be Boys. Gerrit Rietveld Academie. 2014.

Contemporary Media Analysis: Caster Semenya’s Unfair Disadvantage

Contemporary Media Analysis: The unfair disadvantage Caster Semenya must face to compete for Olympic Gold



Track and field is not a widely watched sport outside of the Olympics. However, current events in track and field are attracting a lot of attention. Possibly the hottest topic the past couple months has been the case of Caster Semenya. Semenya is fresh off of a dominant gold medal winning performance in the Olympic women’s 800m final, but unfortunately she has not gotten the positive press you would think. She is intersex, a “hermaphrodite”. A 2010 gender test determined that she has no womb or ovaries, and that she has internal testes. Critics have claimed Semenya holds an unfair advantage against her competitors, as she has testosterone (T) levels that are higher than the vast majority of women. The article that I have chosen to analyze is authored by Eric Adelson, who believes Semenya is getting a very unfair draw. In this paper, I will address why I agree with Adelson that Semenya actually has an unfair disadvantage compared to other world class women’s 800m runners, because of the negative reaction of the media and other critics.

One reason that Adelson believes Semenya is so scrutinized is that sexual differences are simply judged more harshly than other deviations. People like Lebron James and Usain Bolt who have other genetic advantages in the sport they play do not suffer any criticism whatsoever. There is no reason that they should. In the article, Myron Genel, a senior research scientist at Yale, makes an interesting point regarding more accepted genetic advantages. He says, “It’s never suggested that Michael Phelps should step aside for the shorter Ryan Lochte because of something he can’t control. Nor is it suggested that, say, Kevin Durant should remove himself from the Olympics because he’s too close to the basketball rim” (Adelson).

Adelson also describes the harsh language used by Semenya’s critics. Semenya has been called a “ticking time bomb” (Adelson), because of the controversy that would explode when she inevitably won the Olympic gold medal. It was an interesting time for Adelson to write the article, as the controversy regarding Semenya had again risen with the Olympic Games on the horizon. Additionally, Semenya is said to have a “disorder,” whereas other professional athletes with genetic advantages are not. It is widely believed that Michael Phelps is somewhere on the spectrum of Marfan Syndrome, which is also a rare disease. However, the media never says that he has an unfair advantage because of a “disorder” or that he should not be able to compete against swimmers who do not show any symptoms of Marfan Syndrome.

Even more interestingly, people who have taken performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) to gain an advantage over their competitors have not faced anywhere near as much controversy as Semenya. Jarmila Kratochvilova, a Czech woman who is the world record holder for the women’s 800m run (and former 400m world record holder), was almost certainly taking PEDs when she set the world record. She came from a Eastern Bloc Country (state sponsored doping) during an era of widespread doping. She set the world record in the first competitive 800m race she ever ran, having never raced longer than 400m in a major competition. She has not been as widely criticized as Semenya. As Genel, the Yale research scientist said, it seems very odd that people criticize the, “handful of women with naturally higher testosterone levels. Meanwhile, you’ve got doping incidents that are at an estimated 35 percent” (Adelson). Critics and the media react in a very backwards way by being harder on people with rare medical conditions than they are on dopers.

Another theme often talked about is that women seem to be judged more harshly than men for sexual deviations. There are very few, if any, men in sports who are criticized for having a more feminine appearance or lower levels of testosterone. Additionally, men will usually be criticized for having ultra-high testosterone only if they test positive for PEDs. Yet, when someone like Semenya comes around and dominates her event, people want to ban her for something that she can’t control. Mariya Savinova, the 2012 Olympic 800m champion from Russia, famously said, “just look at her,” after losing to Semenya at the 2009 World Championships (Adelson). This quote demonstrates that critics react harshly to Semenya because they are simply not used to “deviants” like her.

This ties in with another point made by Adelson, that appearance matters more than performance when women are judged in sports. In my mind, there is no doubt that Semenya’s situation would not be highly publicized if not for her “breathtakingly butch” appearance. People react negatively to Semenya because she looks different than the vast majority of women. Looking again at Savinova’s “just look at her” quote, it is obvious that she is skeptical of Semenya’s performance because of her appearance. Similarly, Paula Radcliffe said that Caster should not be able to race against other women, because she appears to be a man. Radcliffe herself is the one whose performances we should question. Radcliffe’s marathon world record is over 2 minutes faster than any other woman has ever run, and 3 of her blood samples were flagged as “suspicious” (Wilkinson). However, because she looks like a woman, she does not attract the scorn that Semenya does. Another example of this is Katie Ledecky, who is currently the best swimmer in the world. Much like Radcliffe, people will celebrate her performances, and the idea that she “swims like a guy” (Adelson), because Ledeckey looks like a woman.

Adelson also debates the common idea that a man will always perform better than a woman in sports. Probably his strongest point comes from a study declaring, “there is no clear scientific evidence proving that a high level of T is a significant determinant of performance in female sport”(Adelson). The abovementioned Genel also states that “There are a number of athletes who have at one time or another been in the spotlight because they have excelled and have had one or another disorder that’s related to sexual development. It’s hard to say that is the only reason why they excelled”(Adelson). Paula Radcliffe, the world record holder in the women’s marathon, said that a gold medal for Caster would mean, “it’s no longer sport and no longer an open race”(Adelson). Radcliffe clearly believes that a person with high T levels would always hold an advantage in women’s sports. The fact that Radcliffe believes this in spite of scientific evidence demonstrates another of the author’s claims: that critics will shelve scientific research because they are scared and have trouble comprehending what is going on around them.

The last point of the article that I will address here is that the media largely determines a person’s sexuality. The first way that this happened with Semenya was in 2010 when she had to undergo a gender test that showed she has internal testes (Sharpstein). After this, most of the public decided to shame Semenya and call her a man. The media should have tried to see Semenya’s human side and understand the pain she is going through. The critics and media again failed to realize that the things they were (and still are) saying about her are incredibly offensive, harmful, and degrading. This is evidenced by a statement from Caster’s uncle in response to the scrutiny she has received. He said, “We are very humiliated by what has been said and do not understand how it can be true. This is a woman who was raised a female. She will always be a female, no matter what people say”(Sharpstein). I think it is important for people to remember that everyone has feelings, and that everyone deserves respect even if he or she is different than most other people. Those who do not want Semenya to compete in women’s races should still try to be understanding and respectful of her feelings.

Now that I have talked about the prejudices and biases that Adelson believes make people criticize Semenya, I will talk about some of the ways that this criticism creates an unfair disadvantage compared to her other competitors. Semenya’s critics fail to see her human side, and this causes them to judge her in inappropriate ways. While she ran away with the 800m gold at this last Olympics, she could have possibly accomplished something much greater- breaking a 33 year old world record. Because she knew that there would be an enormous amount of controversy if she broke the world record, Semenya visibly refrained from running as hard as she could have in the first 650m of the race (over 80% of the race distance). She did the same thing in London in 2012, and that time it also cost her a gold medal- to Mariya Savinova.

The controversy has affected Semenya’s performance in other ways. For a time, Semenya had to take testosterone-repressing medications. When she was on these medications, she was not running near as fast as she is now. However, that could be at least partly because being required to take medications like that is probably incredibly demoralizing and distracting. Athletes of any level simply cannot perform at their best if they are unable to properly focus on the task at hand. Even when Semenya competes, the scandal following her tends to keep her from running at her best.

I can understand why many people do not receive Semenya very well. She is nothing like anything that her critics are used to, so they will naturally question whether she should be allowed to compete. However, regardless of a person’s individual opinion, she should not be receiving such degrading comments. While she may have an advantage over the rest of her female competitors, sports can never be perfectly fair. If people realize that she cannot control her advantage like many of her competitors (drug cheats for example), then I believe that critics will at least think about her situation and try to consider the trouble she is going through.