Alternate Grant Proposal Assignment: Virginity as a Social Construct Poster at 1972 Sex Positivity Fair

As an alternative to the Grant Proposal assignment, Caroline Okel, Vance Graves, Felicia Zi, and Collin Epstein created a poster for the Sex Positivity Fair hosted by 1972, ‘a group at Davidson College focused on gender expression on campus and issues affecting women’, according to their Facebook page. We chose to examine virginity as a social construct, hoping to start a conversation with attendees at the fair about how they experience virginity. We researched information on four topics related to virginity that caught our interest, and provided sticky notes and pens so that those who came to the fair could respond to our poster by adding their thoughts to it.


One of the topics that we were interested in exploring for our poster was the comparison between the expectation that people have for losing their virginity versus the experience that they actually have. As Hanne Blank describes in her book Virgin: The Untouched History, we are able to define virginity without describing its loss. She recognizes that we “speak of virginity loss rather than virginity itself… [because] virginity is because it ends” (Blank 96-97). Their definitely is a fascination with the topic of “the first time,” especially in a college setting, but we have noticed that for most people we know, the first time was not all what it is cracked up to be. For example, in Laura M. Carpenter’s Virginity Loss, she interviews people about their stories of losing their virginity. As Bryan Meyers summarizes in her book, “It was just so unbelievable that this, like, this thing you talk about your life is actually happening. And honestly, I think that… it’s not as, like, as mind-blowing as you expect it to be” (Carpenter 72). Therefore, we asked individuals to answer questions about their expectations that they have for their first time or that they had prior to their first time. We found that those who had not lost their virginity expressed desire for a first time with someone they loved and that they feel comfortable with. When actually discussing the first time, the sticky notes expressed more of a feeling of less than ideal conditions such as disappointment, a lack of feeling changed by the experience, and awkwardness. One person simply answered “NO” when asked if it met their expectations. This portion aimed to shed light on the fact that the first time may not be a romantic, life-changing moment like the virginity loss scenes portrayed in popular movies like Titanic and The Notebook and that this is perfectly okay.


A topic that was initially a starting point for conversation in our group was the definition of virginity. We were interested in social and cultural constructions of virginity, and the myth of the hymen was something we discussed and included in our poster, with the main takeaway being that no medical definition exists for what constitutes virginity. One of the open-ended questions we asked on the poster read, “How do you define virginity?” People posted a variety of answers, demonstrating that different individuals defined virginity differently, and that virginity had a different value for every individual. An answer that we found particularly striking was, “IT ISN’T REAL.”  Our group also discussed stigmas and double standards surrounding the idea of virginity, such as social perceptions of male versus female virginities. We included a few memes from pop culture films to demonstrate these double standards, and people seemed to find them not only amusing, but relatable. A female responded to the question, “How did your parents influence your views?” with, “My parents taught me that virginity is purity. I should wait until marriage.” Another female responded with, “Same!”, demonstrating that these gendered perceptions still exist in today’s society. Given that most of the posts were anonymous, it was difficult to find connections between people’s answers and their gender, but the clear variety of answers demonstrated that virginity meant something different for everyone. Ultimately, our group was pleasantly surprised with the amount of people willing and eager to participate in the open-ended questions. It was interesting to generate conversation about a topic that is not normally discussed in everyday conversation and read what people had to say about it.


Another one of the topics we researched for our poster on virginity as a social construct is virginity in the LGBT* Community. We examined how views towards virginity differ between the straight and LGBT* communities. For example, it is often debated as to whether or not lesbian women can actually lose their virginities. This belief stems from the idea that one cannot have sex without the involvement of a penis. In order to change how we look at virginity in the LGBT* community, we need to change how we look at sex. Perhaps we, as a society, view things from a very heteronormative viewpoint. This is due to compulsory heterosexuality, a concept put forth by Adrienne Rich in “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” (1980). With this concept, it is believed that for most people, straight is the default sexuality. This view is very constricting when it comes to looking at how we view sex, and therefore the construct of virginity. Because we asked questions about what people believe to be sex, it was interesting to see whether or not Davidson students would comply with compulsory heterosexuality when answering questions. Interestingly enough, many of the students who answered questions about what they believe sex to be, left gender out of their answer, like when one student wrote that, “Sex is when two or more people have intimate relations with their sexual organs.” Another student just defined sex as, “when all parties orgasm.” It appears that these students took away something from our poster, or perhaps already came with thought that that when we discuss sex, we need to be more inclusive of other sexual orientations and gender identity.


           We also explored historical and cultural representations of virginity in our poster. Historically, virgins have been represented in Western cultures in a series of narrow roles: women as pillars of virtue, men as pathetic or eccentric, and both as holy or deified. Cultural images of virgins contribute to what Barbara Risman refers to as “gender as structure” at the “interactional level of analysis: cultural expectations” in her essay Gender as Structure. These images are crucially dependent on a very heteronormative definition and expectation of gender.

       Female virgins in history are usually portrayed as exceptionally virtuous, usually because of their virgin status (ex: Queen Elizabeth I). Culturally, virginal leaders garnered more respect as virgins, perhaps because of their apparent rejection of men.

        On the other hand, men are typically portrayed as pathetic losers (ex: Steve Carrell in the 40-Year-Old-Virgin) or as eccentric geniuses (ex: rumors about Sir Isaac Newton). In either case, the attitude in which these men are viewed is a sort of bemused surprise. In contrast to women, the expected state for men is as not a virgin. However, failure to conform is not regarded as deeply shameful for men as it is for women.

        The role both men and women have filled as virgins has been as holy people (ex: Joan of Arc, St. Augustine) and as deities. However, even as deities, male and female virgins are represented very differently. There are vastly more female virgin goddesses in Western traditions (ex: Artemis, Athena, the Virgin Mary) than male virgin gods (Jesus). Additionally, the implications for male and female people differ in that all women are implicitly expected to be Mary, but no/few men are held to the standard of Jesus.

        It is important to understand that our telling of history is an important component of how we construct our culture. The clear dichotomy between male and female virginity represented in our culture reinforces the concept of “compulsory heterosexuality” that Adrienne Rich describes in her essay Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence. Learning about how virginity has been understood and portrayed historically allows us to understand virginity as a social construct, and puts the responses of students who reacted to our poster into a wider cultural and historical perspective.

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Years & Years Challenges

In their newest music video for their song “Desire”, the band Years & Years takes on the issues of Compulsory Heterosexuality first brought up by Adrienne Rich, sex positivity, and even white male privilege. The lead singer of the band Olly Alexander writes about his experience as a gay male in the pop industry, the industries relation to sexuality, and what this new video means to him below. I couldn’t find a way to embed his post from Facebook, so I have copied it and pasted it below along with the video.

Most of the pop videos I’ve seen that have any male and female interaction are usually centred around a romance, and that’s great, I am all for romance, but let’s face it there are a lot of other sexualities and identities that are well deserving of some shiny pop video love.

I’ve been wanting to make a video with some of my queer family for a long time and ‘Desire’ felt like the right time to do it. Every Y&Y video has some similar elements that run through it: magical worlds, symbolism, pretty lights and this time I wanted sex added into that mixture.

I wanted the video to feel sexy. Everyone has a different definition of what they find sexy, so why do we so often get given one version of what sexy is time and time again? Is there a rulebook for men and women on how to feel sexy or what sexy is? For me, whoever it is, two women, two men, a group of gender-queer people, it’s all cute. It can all be a positive and a joyful expression of sexiness and sexuality, you don’t have to be a specific gender to enjoy it.

Pop music has a pretty good track record of embracing queer culture, it’s been a safe place for some of our most visible queer icons, we have more out and open non-straight stars than ever before. The word queer first started being used in the late 1980’s by members of the community who wanted to reclaim something negative and turn it into a positive. It’s still a painful word for some and lots of people don’t identify with it but for me it’s a helpful and empowering term that unifies an ever growing community.

I LOVE POP (obviously) so, why is it that in 2016, a Pop video featuring people expressing their sexuality who aren’t cis-gendered or heterosexual, feel at all unusual or progressive? Well for a lot of people, it doesn’t- they live and think outside of the societal binary most of us are used to, but for a lot of other people, myself included, it does. It shouldn’t, but it does. I am an openly gay male singer, in a band called Years & Years, we make pop music. We’re not the only queer-frontman-led acts nor am I the only openly gay male singer but all that being said there aren’t that many of us and at times I’ve felt real pressure to hide or to limit my sexuality. Some of that pressure has come from myself and my own internal struggles and some of it has come from the wider world. Most often I see the following kind of attitude – we don’t mind if you’re gay, just don’t be too gay or that’s a bit much; a bit camp; a bit weird; don’t shove it in our faces etc. Well, if “shoving it in your face” essentially refers to the way that lots of straight pop stars get to assert their sexuality then I’ll be damned if I’m not gonna shove it in your face if I want to.

So yeah, gay people have sex, and it’s not just gay people, it’s all kinds of people! All these non-straight people, they’re out there, having sex! Sex, between two consenting adults, can be a healthy, positive, safe and enjoyable thing! Hopefully most of you know this and you don’t need me to give you a sex ed lesson (I didn’t have any sex ed at school so I’d probably be bad at it) and to be fair, not everybody wants to hear me bang on about my sex life. But here’s the thing, I like having sex, being able to assert myself and talk about my sexuality is an empowering thing for me. It’s a difficult road from shame to acceptance and part of making that journey easier is owning and embracing it all. As a teenager I was inspired by stars who I felt were doing just that. They were almost exclusively women; Madonna, Destiny’s Child, Alanis Morisette, Britney and Whitney – they asserted or acknowledged their sexuality in varying and different ways and to me they were ways that felt powerful. They were singing about men and I wanted to sing about men. They were seductive and sensual in their videos – I wanted to be seductive and sensual in my videos (and believe me I made a lot of these kind of home videos). They were so much more interesting to me than the majority of male musicians whose Type A macho masculinity felt completely un-relatable. Now, I feel like it’s important to state here that I will never be Beyonce, I am a white male and that is an extremely large privilege, I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman. I can talk about sexuality all I want but I will never know what it’s like to be a woman. Women in Pop music are expected to be sexy, most of the time they don’t have any choice – I have the privilege of choice. I chose to make this video about sex, to portray myself as a sexual character. I choose this because I do not want to hide or limit my sexuality, I want to make videos and songs and art that celebrate all different kinds of sexuality and queer identities.

What do we expect from pop music? From our pop stars? What do we expect from the ones that are gay? I don’t know the answers to these questions but I for one don’t want to see a narrow representation of gender and identity on our screens or in our music. I want diversity. We shouldn’t have to feel scared about putting our sexualities and identities on display in all their beautiful, interlocking, multi-layered multi-coloured glory. I want to be proud. Proud to shove it in people’s faces if I want to.

Thank you for reading – it’s the support from you guys that has got me to a place where I’m able to say things like this, to not feel so scared to shout about what I believe in. Hope you enjoy the video. Lots of love, Olly xxx

Odd Couples

Human beings strive for relationship and companionship. It is in our nature. Most people tend to bond with others based on the premise of similarity. This is not always the case however. In her work Odd Couples: Friendships at the Intersection of Gender and Sexual Orientation Anna Muraco takes a look at specific types of relationships: those crossing gender and sexual orientation boundaries. “Odd Couples examines intersectional friendships between gay men and straight women and between lesbian men and straight men to show how these friendships serves as a barometer for shifting social norms, particularly with respect to gender and sexual orientation”.[1]

Muraco examines the relationships between opposite-sex, opposite-orientation adults through various interviews with 26 friendships dyads and triads in the San Francisco Bay Area.[2] More specifically, she, “relied on the participants’ self-identification of being in a close intersectional friendship as sufficient to include them during the study.”[3] From there, she asked participants to explain what they believe it means to be a close friend. Muraco has a multitude of reasons for desiring to study the friendships between opposite-sex, opposite-orientation individuals. For one, she believes that previous studies about the same topic do not examine these relationships thoroughly or not in the same way that she desires to; that “A gap exists in social science research […]”.[4] This gap is due to the fact that friendships are more often studied in youth and young adults rather than adults. Another reason for Muraco’s desire to examine friendship groups was the desire to understand whether or not sexual orientation mitigated inequality between men and women.[5] There has been prior research on this question, however, as Muraco points out, the prior research has not answered the question as to whether or not the absence of sexual tension and romance allows for more egalitarian relationships. Neither has it answered whether or not gender norms will still apply in these relationships.[6] Not only does this research by Muraco answer these questions, but it also challenges the concept of compulsory heterosexuality introduced by Adrienne Rich.[7]

Although lack of previous research motivated Muraco to write Odd Couples, she began to examine intersectional relationships by looking at her own relationship and the relationships of those around her. Her best friend of over twenty years identifies as gay, while Muraco herself is straight. As time went on and pop culture changed, Muraco began to notice the similarities between her own relationship with Mike and other relationships that they were exposed to. One example of a pop culture item to which Muraco and Mike related was the 90s sitcom Will and Grace, which detailed the lives of a gay man and a straight woman who were best friends. After noting the similarities between herself and “Grace” and Mike and “Will”, Muraco began to find other friendships similar to her own in films like My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Next Best Thing, and The Object of My Desire.[8] However, while Muraco knew of relationships between lesbian women and straight men, their portrayal was lacking in comparison to that of gay men and straight women.[9] Muraco’s curiosity about why there was less of a portrayal of friendships between lesbian women and straight men spawned her examination of intersectional friendships and eventually led to Odd Couples.

In the area of organization of her argument, Muraco uses each of her chapters to examine a different aspect of intersectional friendships. In her introduction, Muraco provides background into her study; how she came upon the topic and how it was conducted. From there Muraco sets up further background of her own study by examining friendships as a whole and friendships that cross differences. In the second chapter of Odd Couples Muraco introduces the reader to three of the friendship dyads she encountered, Vanessa and Bruce, Emily and Patrick, and Scott and Ruth. These relationships are focused on because they highlight some of the common themes featured in the other dyads and triads presented as the book progresses.[10] One of the benefits of an intersectional friendship is featured in the relationship between Emily (a lesbian woman) and Patrick (a straight man); Patrick reveals that the fact that Emily is a woman allows him to be vulnerable with her than he would with other males, defying gender norms.[11] Ruth and Scott’s relationship shows the common themes that while intersectional friends may care deeply for one another, they do have their struggles.[12] The relationship between Bruce and Vanessa shows another theme common in the other intersectional friendships; the fact that they often form out of common interests and bonds.[13] Muraco challenges the notion that blood is thicker than water in the third chapter, which focuses on how friendships can serve as a secondary family. For example, one of the friendships Muraco looks at is between Brenda and Dan, who met while they were in college. Brenda, a butch lesbian, lives with Dan and his wife Rosie and their children. They all pitched in to buy a home together.[14] This strengthens the notion that “intersectional friends were better or truer forms of family than their families of origin […]”[15]. As the chapter continues, Muraco also discusses child rearing in intersectional friendships and marriage. Gender norms and identities are discussed in the fourth chapter of the book. In the relationship between Mark and Christina, it is clear that Mark, a gay male, lives vicariously through Christina, by commenting on her appearance and with the advice that he gives her. In this way, Muraco believes that gay men have a tendency to reinforce the beauty norms that straight women face. Christina suggests that perhaps gay men have the desire to be women. [16]  Other women in this chapter refers to themselves as gay men living in the bodies of straight women, this is to say that they identify with the culture their friends are involved in, recognize similarities in marginalized positions, or they feel more masculine than their female counterparts. The lack of sexual tension between intersectional dyads also allows for more openness between the friends.[17] In the fifth chapeter, Muraco talks about how sexuality and sexual orientation factor into intersectional friendships. One example of this is how intersectional friendships can tend to begin to resemble heterosexual, romantic partnerships. This was the case between two friends, Jill and Paul.[18] Also to be noted in this chapter was that in relationships across sexuality and gender were said to have less sexual tension than, say a friendship between two gay males.[19] Muraco examines the politics of intersectional friendships in the sixth chapter. She looks at the way these relations tackle compulsory heterosexuality, and how gay men and lesbians expand their horizons by interacting with straight men and women and how the opposite is true. It also leads to more comfort in general when it comes to being with those of a differing sexual orientation.[20] In her conclusion relates her study to what is next for intersectional friendships as the climate towards gay and lesbian individuals changes. Muraco specifically states, “In this final section, I address how we can look to intersectional friendships as a model for postmodern relationships and political alliance and discuss the shifting social contexts to influence the future of intersectional friendships”.[21]

One area of strength in this work is that Anna Muraco well situates herself well within the other research completed on similar topics. She thoroughly explains where other studies are lacking, and where her study fills the gaps. However, one weakness in her argument and the way that her study is formatted is that she seems to try to overuse some studies; they crowd the point that she is trying to make.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Anna Muraco’s Odd Couples: Friendships at the Intersection of Gender and Sexual Orientation. I thought that her observation about the lack of representation of lesbian/straight male relationships was astute as well. I would recommend this book to those who are in an intersectional relationship like some of the ones described or to people who are not and desire to learn more about intersectional relationships.


Muraco, Anna. Odd Couples: Friendships at the Intersection of Gender and Sexual Orientation. Durham: Duke University Press, 2012.

[1]Anna Muraco, Odd Couples: Friendships at the Intersection of Gender and Sexual Orientation (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), LOC 94

[2]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 243

[3]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 221

[4]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 157

[5]Murano, Odd Couples,  LOC 178

[6]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 178-188

[7]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 146

[8]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 83

[9]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 94

[10]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 766

[11]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 862

[12]Murano, Odd Couples,  LOC 960

[13] Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 1066

[14] Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 1189

[15] Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 1269

[16]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 1672-1683

[17]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 1846

[18]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 2186

[19]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 2209

[20]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 2502

[21]Murano, Odd Couples, LOC 3002

*The reasoning behind the use of location number rather than page number is due to the fact that this work was viewed on a Kindle.

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry

The documentary She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry was first shown to me in my Anthropology of Social Movements class last semester. This film traces the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s and 1970s, specifically focusing on activist groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Black Sisters United. The collection of women interviewed for this film were part of these groups as well as leaders of lesbian activism sects and the writers of Our Bodies, Ourselves. When reading Betty Friedan’s except from The Feminine Mystique, this documentary automatically came to mind as women were arguing for equal rights not only inside the home as mothers, but also in economics and education. But I also found this documentary very interesting because of how it addressed the intersectionality of race and gender in this period of the women’s rights movement, such as Bell Hooks writes about in Black Women: Shaping Feminist Theory. Hooks states that Friedan “ignored the existence of all non-white women and poor white women” the same way that many African American and lesbian women saw “feminist radicalism [lose] ground to bourgeois feminism.” Lesbians at the time were also rebelling against compulsory heterosexuality and male identification as they felt they had a right to voice their opinion in the women’s liberation movement as shown in the documentary. She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry shows the dynamic intersectionality of race, class, and gender during the women’s right movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Orange is the New Black: An Analysis of Female Sexuality


Orange is the New Black is a Netflix original TV show that details life in Litchfield Correctional Facility, a prison. Based off of the popular memoir by the same name, the show follows the main character Piper Chapman as she goes through the process of being sent to prison and her life before and after. While Piper is a young, educated, white woman, many of the other characters are people of color or are of various ages and backgrounds. The show has been praised for its portrayal of LGBTQ characters as well. While the show’s main purpose is to entertain, seen in the humor that is always present, it also aims to teach lessons and showcase different aspects of life that the inmates often face. This can be seen through the moral dilemmas that the inmates often face and the things that they learn about themselves and those around them.

As a whole, this show tackles many issues including race relations, power struggles, religion, love, and, as portrayed in the scenes provided, female sexuality. Often in the show, there is a division among the races; all the black inmates live near each other, the white inmates eat lunch together, and the Latina inmates work with each other. This speaks to the intersectionality of the show and how it addresses the struggles that various women go through. The variety of the characters, due to its portrayal of a racially diverse cast with various sexualities, along with the topics covered, appeal to a wide audience range. The characters all have different backgrounds and backstories that certain episodes delve into. All of the women are from varying classes and each is convicted for something specific to them. The audience members can easily find characters to relate to or at least empathize with. This increases the effectiveness of the show at causing social change or at least garnering views.

In the scenes presented, the main issue that is dealt with is female sexuality. Orange is the New Black deals with this issue is by addressing the lack of education and knowledge about female sexuality. Two scenes from the second season show some of the inmates discussing female anatomy. While the conversation starts out playfully, it soon turns into a discussion about clarifying a confusion about their own genitalia and how everything works below the belt. Eager to discover the true location of the urethra, the women head to the restroom and begin their search. Noticing their confusion, another inmate, Sophia offers her advice. The perspective that Sophia offers is interesting because she is a transwoman. Sophia basically had the opportunity to design her anatomy the way she wanted. These women all have vaginas. To the viewer, especially male viewers, not knowing one’s own anatomy may seem a foreign concept. The fact that these women are so openly talking about their genitalia on a television show is something that would be considered to be out of the ordinary, meanwhile jokes about male genitalia are made fairly often. Perhaps the lack of knowledge about female sexuality stems from the fears towards women as sexual beings. These fears have existed for quite some time. For example, in his 1880 novel Nana, Émile Zola essentially blamed a female prostitute for the downfall of France. Even in today’s society, we still have these fears towards female sexuality and the female body. This can be seen in the backlash that young girls face for their clothing choices at school. Female bodies are constantly being policed by society, similar to the way that Anne Balay writes on how LGBT steelworkers had to be careful of the way that they presented themselves in order to remain in the closet and therefore, safe from harm. This policing of female bodies is detrimental to their education, and this is mirrored in the scene provided; these women essentially do not know themselves, or at least do not know a huge aspect of who they identify to be. However, as the women in the scene are further educated about their bodies, they become happily surprised with what they learn. In the second clip provided, Sophia goes even further in depth with explaining female anatomy. Then Sophia brings up something basically unheard of, female pleasure when it comes to sexuality. As one Huffington Post writer said, “No one taught me about masturbation. Sure my mom gave me the rundown on where babies come from, but she certainly didn’t mention anything about orgasms” (Lumpkin). Sex education often discusses reproduction, but glosses over pleasure and rarely discusses the concepts of various sexualities and gender identities.

Furthermore, Orange is the New Black  tackles the concepts of gender identity and sexual orientation. For these scenes in particular, it is important to note that these aspects of identity are highlighted. One of the women in the scene, Poussey, explicitly confirms her lesbian identity in her comment about familiarity with female anatomy, but also Sophia, a transwomen, is the one who takes on the task of explaining female anatomy to the other inmates. This decision to use Sophia as the character to enlighten the other inmates about female genitalia brings attention to the fact that she is Trans. Although she is not in the scenes provided, the main character of the show, Piper Chapman, also falls somewhere along the lesbian continuum mentioned by Adrienne Rich; Piper identifies as a bisexual woman and is in prison due to a complications with her drug-dealing ex-girlfriend. The fact that some of the characters shown in the scene along with many of the other characters fall somewhere along the lesbian continuum shows how this program interrupts the norm of compulsory heterosexuality, another term presented by Adrienne Rich. It is notable that the women in the prison are all complex characters. More often than not, women in movies are written to be bland and one-sided. These three-dimensional women have backstories, wants, and desires. The characters are realistic. Their presentation breaks the norm in movies that women are mainly used as a prop or crutch for the scene. These women carry the scene on their backs and propel the show forward with strong acting.

Overall, Orange is the New Black mainly focuses on the different points of  intersectionality and female sexuality. The portrayal of racially diverse characters shows the experiences that women of different races and backgrounds go through.  Differences in gender identity, and sexual orientation help to break down the concept of compulsory heterosexuality and expose viewers to the lesbian continuum. Rich’s use of these terms Lesbian Continuum and Compulsory Heterosexuality give the show something to not only showcase, but also something to change. In the aspect of female sexuality, the fact that the women on the show are able to talk about sex so openly and their anatomy proves yet again how the show can appeal to many, while also breaking norms; the idea that it is fine for males to talk about and make jokes about sex.

While Orange is the New Black may have amassed a strong fan base over its past three seasons, there are aspects of the show that could have rubbed some the wrong way. For example, the fact that many of the women in the show identify along the LGBTQ spectrum may have alienated some viewers who buy into the notion of compulsory heterosexuality. The fact that there are very few male characters may have received cries of “sexism” as well. No matter how strong the backlash is towards the show, it is still going strong, having recently been renewed for an additional three seasons (Cooper).



Cooper, Mariah. “‘Orange Is the New Black’ Renewed for Three More Seasons.” Washington Blade Gay News Politics LGBT Rights ICal. Washington Blade, 2016. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.

Lumpkin, Jincey. “Masturbation Is Not a Dirty Word.” The Huffington Post., 11 Feb. 13. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.

“Orange Is the New Black – Laverne Cox Gives a Lesson in Female Anatomy – S2 Ep4.” YouTube. YouTube, 21 June 2014. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.

“Orange Is the New Black S02E04 Poussey and Taystee Pee Hole.” YouTube. YouTube, 11 July 2014. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.


The Good Wife’s Guide

“The Good Wife’s Guide”


When my mom was married in 1979, my grandmother gave her a present, as most mothers do on their daughter’s wedding day. Although, this present was not the typical wedding gift, but rather a piece of paper with bullet points delineating all the duties that my grandmother felt my mother must carry out in order to be a good wife and to make her marriage “work”. The list included tasks like, “never take your makeup off until your husband is already in bed but make sure you reapply before he awakens”, or “always have dinner prepared when he comes home from work”, and “never let him come home to a dirty house”. My grandmother slipped the sheet into my mom’s honeymoon bag and told her that if she followed the list closely that her marriage would last because there would be no reason for my father to ever be upset. However, I never realized that this list could possibly be based on a real artifact called, “The Good Wife’s Guide”.

“The Good Wife’s Guide”, which was piece of media created in the 1950’s to teach woman how to be the best wife possible. It consisted of an image as well as a list of 18 tasks that a wife must complete in order to keep her husband happy. There is speculation as to where the original “Good Wife’s Guide” first appeared. The popular belief is that the image was taken from a home economics textbook that was produced in the 1950’s as part of a required curriculum for girls in the public school system. A lesser-held belief speculates that this image was produced in the 50’s as a piece of media, never being published in any textbook. Agreeing with the popular belief, home economics was a class offered in most public schools, which taught girls how to become ladies and to manage a home by mastering tasks such as cooking, baking, bed-making, deep cleaning a house, organizing a house, sewing, laundry, and more. This kind of curriculum made a home economic textbook the bible of domesticity. Boys of course, did not take this course because housework was considered exclusively the woman’s job. The man was expected to focus on building a successful career, while his wife stay at home to “manage” the house. But for this paper, whether this piece was truly published in a home economics textbook or if this piece was simply a statement of popular beliefs held during the 1950’s is not of true concern. The issue is that it was created in the first place and that it was, at the time, an accurate depiction of America’s vision of the mainstream post-war American woman.

“The Good Wife’s Guide” serves as a perfect example of compulsory heterosexuality in America. Popularized by Adrienne Rich in the 1980’s, compulsory heterosexuality is the idea that female heterosexuality is designed and enforced by a patriarchal society. This way of thinking leads to a culture that disempowers women, which was happening in the 1950’s. Pieces of media like “The Good Wife’s Guide,” only reinforce the concept of compulsory heterosexuality in a society, thereby inhibiting change.  “The Good Wife’s Guide” was not only problematic because it disempowered women by the force of men, but it was troublesome because it only addressed white, middle-class women.  If “The Good Wife’s Guide” is only speaking to white women who live in a middle to upper class family, then does that mean wives of lower class families or wives of the minority races can never be good wives?  Of course we know that any woman has the capability to be as good as a “wife” as they wish (however they choose to define wife and the corresponding responsibilities), but this media source made it seem impossible to think that the “perfect wife” could be anything but white and comfortably wealthy.

The creator of “The Good Wife’s Guide” made a wife’s job simple and stated that in order to be a good wife; one should follow 18 simple rules, which would result in a happy husband and good marriage. During the 1950’s, America created a culture that expected women to get married, have children, and be dutiful housewives. “The Good Wife’s Guide” used an image and a list of bullet points to simply compel and prepare woman to discharge a narrow definition of the “duties” believed to be those of a role model wife and mother. In the image used in “The Good Wife’s Guide” the viewer can see the wife happily cooking dinner at the stove, dressed nicely still wearing her heels, while the father is just arriving home from work. The children, still dressed nicely as the mother has asked of them, flock to the father to greet him. The wife is bent over, causing the viewer to perceive her as subordinate to her husband who is standing tall in front of her. Not only does the woman have submissive posture, but also in the actual image the husband appears much larger, taking up more space in the picture. This causes the viewer to see the husband as a more commanding figure, implying that he is of greater importance. By showing the wife with a gleaming smile, and the husband with a satisfied look on his face, this image is intended to cause one to believe that being a “good wife” is enjoyable and beneficial for both parties involved. But if one were to read the bullet point tasks more carefully, the house of a “good wife” seems to be more pleasing for only one party involved, the husband.

The first bullet point talks about preparing dinner before the husband comes home from work, the author says more than that including that, “this is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs.” This shows that the man’s needs and concerns are of primary importance, but what about the woman’s? Next it says, “prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking,” communicating that the women’s appearance is crucial to her husband’s happiness. The list proceeds to give instructions on how to prepare the house for his arrival, but there is a concerning over-arching theme in the bullet points which is, do everything to please him, whereas the wife’s happiness is of little or no consequence. This theme is expressed through phrases like, “be a little gay and a little more interesting for him,” “catering for his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction,” “show sincerity in your desire to please him,” “his topics of conversation are more important than yours,” “make the evening his,” “make him comfortable,” “you have no right to question him,” and finally “a good wife always knows her place.” This theme of the husband’s superiority in stark contrast to the wife’s utter insignificance dominated the 1950’s, and is perfectly depicted in the image and text used in “The Good Wife’s Guide.” Fortunately this theory of thought is slowly being reversed to find equilibrium between men and women in contemporary times.

When evaluating the success of “The Good Wife’s Guide” as a piece of media or teaching tool (depending on the origin of its source,) I would argue that it was successful. The 1950’s housewife played a prominent role in America. TV shows like, Leave it to Beaver or Father Knows Best, depicted the importance and perfection of the housewife and her role in the home. Whether “The Good Wife’s Guide” was in a home economics textbook or simply just produced in the media, a majority of women saw it and most likely remembered some of the “keys” to being a good wife, and probably acted on them once married. The final reason why I would personally argue that this image was successful is that my grandmother found it so important that she created her own list based on the original “Good Wife’s Guide” to give to my mother on one of the most important days of her life, her wedding day. Almost 20 years after this list was created, other women like my grandmother were still re-creating it, which demonstrates its significance to a part of society and that period in time. In contemporary society I believe that when people see this list it is seen as humorous because of how drastically the definition of housewife and even the expectations of women have changed. This demonstrates that the meaning that a piece of media portrays is highly dependent on the generation and society that views that image.

Exposure to the LGBT community from a younger age

In 2014, the television show Good Luck Charlie made history on Disney Channel by being the network’s first show to feature a same-sex couple. Susan and Cheryl, the lesbian couple featured, in no way serve as the basis for the plotline of the episode because they are only featured for one minute. However, the fact that they are appear at all demonstrates that Disney Channel slowly may be moving towards broadcasting more diversity in their television shows. A short clip of the show makes a big statement, and although it is not perfect, it definitely is a step in the right direction for the television network. This decision to show a same-sex couple was met with mixed reviews from the public and from parents of the children who watch the television show. Conservative Christians were especially against the episode and protested against the network. However, hopefully, by exposing children to the fact that families do not always have a mom and a dad, these children will grow up to be more accepting of diversity than their parents. As a whole, the scene brings forth an attitude of acceptance and normalcy towards Susan and Cheryl, and it sets the stage for more children’s shows to follow in its path.

Disney Channel handled the introduction of their first lesbian couple far better than one would expect. It would be easy for the introduction of Susan and Cheryl to be a major plotline just for laughs or for the show to follow the cliché outline of a character originally not accepting a gay character but seeing that the individual is “just like everybody else” by the end of the episode. However, the show uses Susan and Cheryl to make a subtle statement. The couple only appears in a minute of the show, and while the scene does bring forth some laughs, it is at the expense of Charlie’s parents, Bob and Amy, instead of Susan and Cheryl. In the clip, Amy tells Bob that she has invited one of Charlie’s friends over for a playdate and that she also invited her friend Taylor’s mother, Susan. This confuses Bob because he already had met Taylor’s mom and thought her name was Cheryl. The couple argue over which person is right about Taylor’s mother’s name, but they soon realize that they both are right because Taylor has two moms. Amy and Bob treat Cheryl and Susan the same way that they would treat any other couple, and the entire encounter treats the issue very casually. The scene is funny because of the fact that Amy and Bob so blindly assumed the heteronormative standard, and the fact that the network makes makes fun of this is a subtle protest against the fact that people assume that a male-female couple is the norm.

Because the show is geared towards children and tweens, it is especially refreshing that a lesbian couple is featured. Disney Channel and the shows that are played on the network serve as an important model for kids on what is “cool,” and it also gives kids role models through the lead actors and actresses in the programs. Young children are easily influenced, so many of their opinions and reactions to ideas are reflections of the beliefs of the people around them. Because of this, the morals conveyed in the TV shows that they watch religiously are absorbed. This causes an appearance of a lesbian couple to be more impactful in a children’s show than in one made for adults. Because Amy and Bob are accepting and react positively towards Susan and Cheryl, this paves the path for the tween viewers of the show to have similar reactions towards same-sex couples. Although Charlie’s parents are a little surprised at first, they both are very welcoming and treat Susan and Cheryl in the same way they would treat any set of parents. Neither Amy nor Bob make any statement that conveys any sort of negative reaction. This reaction generates an outline for children to follow if they are confronted with a similar situation, and Bob and Amy teach children that all couples should be treated the same.

Despite these positive aspects of the episode, it is by no means perfect. To an adult, the episode makes it very clear that Susan and Cheryl are in fact a couple. However, this fact may not be obvious to younger children who have never been exposed to any sort of LGBT individuals. Susan and Cheryl are never addressed as being a romantic couple or even in a partnership. When Susan introduces Cheryl to Amy, she does not introduce Cheryl as her “wife” or “partner.” Instead, she introduces her as “Taylor’s other mom.” This introduction implies a romantic relationship, but this implication might go over the heads of young children. If a child has never met a LGBT couple, he or she may not jump straight to the conclusion that Taylor’s two moms form the same sort of union as a mom and a dad. Kids may just think the fact that Taylor has two moms to be weird and move on without wondering or asking any questions. This distinction of referring to the two women as “Taylor’s moms” instead of “Susan’s partner” or “Cheryl’s wife” is further enforced when Bob makes the connection to Amy. He express, “Oh, Taylor has two moms!” which potentially further distances children from making the connection that Susan and Cheryl love each other. This issue over how the two women are referenced may indicate that Disney Channel did not fully commit to the task of exposing children to the LGBT community. The couple is present, but it is clear that Disney tried to make the fact that they were a couple indistinct so that it would go over the heads of children.

One of the other problems with the clip is that no diversity is expressed within the whole scene. Susan and Cheryl are white and portrayed to be middle-class, which further enforces the stereotype that gay couples are all white, wealthy, and in long term relationships. Both are also very feminine, and at first glance, it would not be clear that either of them were lesbian. While this could be viewed as a positive because it teaches the cliché lesson that “gay people are like everyone else,” this does not serve as an accurate, universal depiction of being a lesbian. Generally, lesbians on TV shows and in movies are portrayed to be on the feminine end of the spectrum, similarly to Susan and Cheryl. Therefore, this television episode sets the stage for the stereotype of rich, white, female lesbians to be wired in the brains of children from a young age. If this episode is the first time a child is exposed to a LGBT couple, the fact that the couple fits this stereotype has the potential to influence what he or she believes to be a “normal” gay couple.

Despite these problems with the scene, there is one especially subtle detail that even if not planned, adds another dimension to the episode. Susan and Cheryl’s daughter is named Taylor, which is a gender neutral name. One top of this, Taylor does not have what is traditionally considered to be a female haircut. She has a short, boy-like pixie cut, which is typically not seen in young girls. Most moms choose to let their daughters grow out their hair and have long curls or pigtails, but Susan and Cheryl did not do this with Taylor. Although not much else is revealed about how Susan and Cheryl parent, these two details reveal that at least in these instances, the couple does not enforce gender norms on their daughter. Disney Channel is generally associated with the sparkly outfits of Hannah Montana and having characters that clearly fit gender norms, so the fact that Taylor is not incredibly girly is another subtle aspect of the clip that potentially signals changes for Disney.

For many, the fact that Susan and Cheryl appeared on the show was considered to be a positive step for Disney Channel. However, the episode was met with backlash, especially from the Christian conservative group “One Million Moms.” This group campaigned against the decision to showcase a same sex couple and sent an email protesting the scene, urging Disney to “avoid controversial topics that children are far too young to understand” (Kuruvilla). It is expected that the episode would be met with criticism, but the group’s argument is illogical. If children are too young to understand a gay couple, can it not be argued that that would also mean they are too young to understand a straight couple as well? Even though the fact that Susan and Cheryl are a couple may go over the heads of some kids, if LGBT couples become more present in children’s television, hopefully they will learn to accept all people. This possibly can cause even the children of the makers behind “One Million Moms” to see why the views of their parents are outdated.

The fact that Disney Channel showcased a same-sex relationship on a television show for young children demonstrates progress, even if there were flaws with the depiction. As a whole, the scene maps out a start for expanding the diversity of sexual orientations of characters on the network. Hopefully this was only the start and LGBT characters will become common in all television. If children are never taught that being gay is different or abnormal, then as their generation grows up, equality will become more of the standard. This one episode of Good Luck Charlie clearly cannot make this difference, but it may be a sign that Disney Channel is taking the initiative to take this step.

Works Cited

Hadamsj. “Good Luck Charlie- Susan & Cheryl.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 26 Jan 2014. Web. 1 Feb 2016.

Kuruvilla, Carol. “Disney Channel Debuts Lesbian Couple on ‘Good Luck Charlie’.” NY Daily News. NYDailyNews, 5 Feb. 2014. Web. 7 Feb. 2016.

The Heterosexual Planet of Gazorpazorp: Gender Norms in Rick and Morty



     Rick and Morty is an animated adult television series centered on an alcoholic scientific genius, Rick Sanchez, and his naïve fourteen year-old grandson, Morty. The show takes little for granted as the two embark on preposterous adventures to alien planets and through alternate dimensions. Like many of today’s adult cartoons the show’s creators, Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, rely on absurdist humor, supplemented with nihilistic comments, to entertain and amuse their primarily male audience. Despite challenging most of what we know to be true about the physical universe the show appears to leave western societal norms completely intact. In “Raising a Gazorpazorp,” an episode centered on gender norms, the show creates humor by relying on viewers’ assumptions of gender stereotypes and compulsory heterosexuality in order to create humor.

In the episode Rick and his older granddaughter, Summer, find themselves on Gazorpazorp, a planet that initially appears to be inhabited exclusively by aggressive predatorily sexual male aliens and reproducing sex robots. Rick’s only explanation is that the planet evolved to replace females with “birthing machines,” but that the subsequent lack of distraction allowed men to focus on war and bomb each other back to barbarism. There is only one type of alien, but they are assumed to be male and then prescribed exaggerations of traditional heterosexual male tropes such as an overtly healthy libido, aggression, and strength. Despite being in an all male environment the possibility of the society being homosexual is never addressed. These gender and sexuality norms are used as a comedic reflection on our own society. For example Rick demands that Summer wear a burqa, lest she be raped and killed, and says, “The least you could do is be ashamed of your gender.” The scene and Rick’s explicit sexism throughout act as a foil on our own gender preconceptions, but rely on gender and sex norms to arrive at the punch line.

Rick’s initial prediction proves wrong as the characters soon discover the planet is ruled by women who isolated themselves from the dangerously aggressive men centuries ago. The women live in what might be described as an extreme version of Mary Astell’s suggested “blessed abode.” They have withdrawn from men, emphasize education and personal betterment, and the women appear to be celibate. The women do not appear to have reject Astell’s societal vices, however, as the aliens have long legs, large breasts, and elaborate clothes to accompany their additional sets of arms.  Nonetheless the females use robots to reproduce and are removed from traditional roles of domesticity.

The humor in this scene, however, comes from exaggerating female tendencies and norms usually experienced by men. For example the women greet each other with, “I am here if you need to talk,” the courthouse steps read “sis semper calumniam” translating roughly to you are always wrong, and a girl is charged with the crime of having “terrible bangs.” Because the plot of Rick and Morty is essentially inconsequential the show relies on these small jokes for entertainment; these small jokes in turn rely on ingrained western male ideas about femininity.

In these scenes Rick and Morty also relies on contemporary beliefs that there exists a strict divide between female friendships and female intimacies rather than the lesbian spectrum described by Adrienne Rich. Realizing this divide herself Sharon Marcus writes, “I now grasped that our contemporary opposition between hetero- and homosexuality did not exist for Victorians” (19). Despite being a recent idea this distinction is immediately assumed and applied to this fictional planet simply because the brief glimpses of relationships between women shows closeness but never implies a sexual nature. It is interesting to note that a planet where attractive female aliens did engage in homosexual behaviors is by no means “out of bounds” for the show’s writers, but it is likely that the women of Gazorpazorp would have sacrificed their intelligence and societal advancements to become a male fantasy. To include both lesbianism and intellect would take the viewer out of his comfort zone and destroy the intended humor.

While the genders on Gazorpazorp were separated both in behavior and geography they remained heterosexual. The only mention of homosexuality is made by Summer as she argues that gender “equality” on Earth is necessary because, “On Earth a certain percentage of our males are born gay, which is why my clothes are better than all of yours.” Flawed reasoning aside, this line can be unpacked to better understand how notions of sexuality are reinforced. First this small comment certainly reinforces gay stereotypes. Judith Butler cautions against this claiming a homosexual identity can constrain and legislate in dangerous ways; she writes, “The political problem is not to establish the specificity of lesbian sexuality over and against its derivativeness, but to turn the homophobic construction of the bad copy against the framework that privileges heterosexuality as origin” (310). Though small Summer’s quote certainly does fit in the larger narrative of typifying homosexuals.

Secondly the wording used implies that males being born gay are in some way unnatural. While slight and likely not noticed by the casual viewer this idea that heterosexual attraction is natural and a byproduct of evolution, and therefore queerness is unnatural, is also societally produced. Jonathan Katz writes, “Kraft-Ebing hypothesized an inborn ‘sexual instinct’ for relations with the ‘opposite sex’ the inherent ‘purpose’ of which was to foster procreation” (234). Although the idea was new in the late nineteenth, it is so commonplace now that the show uses it throughout the Gazorpazorp scenes to reinforce heterosexuality, and the viewer, myself included, fails to notice the assumptions that are made.

While in a traditional television show a character’s own views of gender might be changed by visiting such a planet, the postmodern show makes it clear that nothing has changed as Rick is still sexist. He even says, “After all that stuff we just did nothing really mattered. There was no point to it.” This is essentially what every joke was revealing. Despite depicting a female dominated society the show was able to entertain, ironically, by using dated gender stereotypes embedded in viewer’s minds to make their jokes. It is the viewer’s own sexism rather than a sexist message that completes the jokes.  While underlying, the norms are still enforced and, in a society where new age media plays a pivotal role in how we explain and understand the world, these reinforcements are just as damaging as and less rejected than traditional oppressive content.


Butler, Judith. “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Routledge. 1993.

Evans, Thomas. “Wubba Lubba Dub Dub! : The Pursuit of Happiness in Rick and Morty.” Under Construction at Keele. Keel University. Volume 2 Issue 1. 2015. Web. 3 February 2015.

Katz, Jonathan Ned. “The Invention of Heterosexuality.” Socialist Review 20. 1990.

Marcus, Sharon. Between Women: Friendship, Desire and Marriage in Victorian England. Princeton University Press. 2007.

“Raising Gazorpazorp.” Rick and Morty. Adult Swim. 10 March 2014. Television.