Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my dad and I singing classic rock as we drove through the countryside. I happily swung my feet as my dad inserted Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One—an album released by The Kinks—into the CD player. Finally, my favorite song, Lola, played as I cheerfully belted out the lyrics. It was in my adolescence that I learned the true meaning of Lola.
The song begins with the narrator going to a club where the “champagne…tastes just like Coca-Cola.” While not immediately clear, this line foreshadows later themes of the song, introducing the idea of something appearing as it originally wasn’t. Despite the difference, it is still enjoyable. It is at this point that listeners meet Lola, a woman that captivates the narrator.
She walked up to me and she asked me to dance
I asked her her name and in a dark brown voice she said Lola
Well, I’m not the world’s most physical guy
But when she squeezed me tight she nearly broke my spine
Well, I’m not dumb but I can’t understand
Why she walked like a woman but talked like a man
When listeners first meet Lola, she is introduced as having a deep and husky voice. She is also described as strong, capable of hugging the narrator in a way that overpowers him. The narrator depicts Lola as being quite masculine, going as far as to state that she “talked like a man.” Despite this, he is still enjoying his time with her and they spend the rest of their night drinking and dancing. Eventually, Lola asks him if he’ll come home with her, to which he agrees.
I pushed her away
I walked to the door
I fell to the floor
I got down on my knees
Then I looked at her and she at me
It is at this moment that the narrator realizes that Lola is not a cisgender woman. While he is initially shocked and even begins to leave, he quickly realizes that she is still Lola.
Well, that’s the way that I want it to stay
And I always want it to be that way for my Lola
Girls will be boys and boys will be girls
It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world, except for Lola
The narrator states that he wants Lola to be a transgender woman because that is what makes her Lola. He further notes that there is a lot of confusion in the world, but Lola isn’t confused. She is confident in her identity.
But I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man
And so is Lola
This is the most famous line of the song, as it is ambiguous. It is unclear if Lola is glad that the narrator is a man, or if she is a man. The popular belief is that she is glad that she is a male so that she could experience what it means to be a trans woman. While the lyrics may be a bit outdated—a product of the time that it was written in—it is still a transfemme love song nonetheless. Lola discusses transness in a positive light, signaling that transgender people are lovable. At the time of the song’s release, the topic of being trans was not widely discussed or understood, and when it occasionally was, transgender individuals were often painted in a poor light. Lola is progressive for its time, portraying trans women as sexy and desirable, a notion that was revolutionary for its time.
When I first heard about this assignment, I immediately thought of Lizzo’s “Like A Girl.” To me, it is the epitome of a feminist anthem that proclaims the power of women.
Woke up feelin’ like I just might run for President Even if there ain’t no precedent, switchin’ up the messaging I’m about to add a little estrogen Buy my whip by myself Pay my rent by myself
Only exes that I care about are in my fucking chromosomes I don’t really need you, I’m Macaulay Culkin home alone Bad bitch, diamonds in my collarbone Buy my whip by myself Pay my rent by myself
This opening verse is an embodiment of female power. In Lizzo’s eyes, there’s never been a female president—so what? There needs to be, and I can do it! It is incredibly self-empowering and asserts the independence of women. Who needs a man to help pay rent? I’m doing just fine on my own.
Sugar, spice, and I’m nice Show me what you’re made of Crazy, sexy, cool, baby With or without makeup Got nothing to prove But I’ma show you how I do
I really enjoy these lyrics because they take the common stereotypical image of a woman or belief of what women should be—“sugar, spice, and everything nice”—and both accept it and turn it on its head. Lizzo asserts that she is sugar, spice, and nice, but also crazy, sexy, and cool—with or without makeup. This is fighting back against the idea that women are only beautiful with makeup or that makeup is a method to cover insecurities or build confidence. Lizzo is saying that she wears makeup because she wants to, not because she needs to—she’s sexy without it too and she doesn’t have to prove it to you.
Find me up in Magic City bustin’ hundreds by the bands And I throw it like a girl Throw it, throw it like a girl Hangin’ out the 750 Feelin’ bossy in my city ‘Cause I run it like a girl Run it, run it like a girl I work my femininity I make these boys get on their knees Now watch me do it, watch me do it Look it, look it, I’ma do it Like a girl (like a girl) Like a girl (like a girl)
In modern culture, the phrase “like a girl” has a negative connotation: if you throw like a girl or hit like a girl, you’re doing it weakly or daintily. Lizzo is arguing the opposite. She’s painting her “throwing it and running it” like a girl as powerful and strong, and perhaps even surpassing the power and strength of boys as she sings “I make these boys get on their knees.”
Shoot the car through the fire, light the kerosene (we can do it) Lauryn Hill told me everything is everything (we can do it) Serena Willy showed me I can win the Wimbledon (we can do it) Put me on a pedestal Bet on me, bet I will
Here, Lizzo is citing specific women as inspiration for her self-empowerment. She mentions Lauryn Hill, who is often regarded as one of the most influential musicians of her generation and one of the greatest rappers of all time, and Serena Williams, who is among the greatest tennis players of all time, as encouragement for her realization of what she can do. The background vocals also chant “we can do it,” a reference to Rosie the Riveter’s popular phrase that asserts female empowerment.
So if you fight like a girl, cry like a girl Do your thing, run the whole damn world If you feel like a girl then you real like a girl Do your thing, run the whole damn world If you fight like a girl, cry like a girl Do your thing, run the whole damn world If you feel like a girl then you real like a girl Do your thing, run the whole damn world
This echoes the earlier positive reframing of the phrase “like a girl.” I also especially like the line “If you feel like a girl then you real like a girl.” To me, this is an intentional effort to include trans women in the conversation, saying that trans women are also real women and are just as powerful.
Overall, this song is a wonderful feminist anthem that encourages women to claim their rightful power and strength. Its message is that of self-empowerment and self-love. I highly recommend that everyone listen to it whenever they need a good confidence boost.
I believe that the song “Boys Will Be Boys” by Dua Lipa is incredibly important and relates to feminism, especially considering bell hooks’ definition of it: “feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” The song addresses the problem of gender-based violence and sexism at its roots, talking about what children are taught and what women experience.
The song starts off by mentioning an experience that too many women are familiar with:
“It’s second nature to walk home before the sun goes down
And put your keys between your knuckles when there’s boys around
Isn’t it funny how we laugh it off to hide our fear?
When there’s nothing funny here”
There are so many strategies that women implement in their daily life – when walking alone, they always have pepper spray on them, keys between fingers, cross the street when there is a man on the same side of the road; when being in an uncomfortable situation, the strategy often entails laughing or smiling in fear that if we address the problem, it might escalate.
Men are never taught those strategies. Perhaps, more and more of them realize that it is often frightening for women to walk alone at night, and they try to, for example, cross to the other side of the street to not seem like they are following a woman, to make her feel safer. However, it is not emphasized enough, especially from the younge age.
“No, the kids ain’t alright
Oh, and they do what they see
‘Cause it’s all on TV
Oh, the kids ain’t alright”
People’s perception of the world starts to form at a very young age. Girls are taught consistently what to do not to get raped, but boys are hardly ever taught not to rape. People consistently see in the media scenes where consent is nonexistent, how women are treated, and they follow those examples. Additionally, men’s and boys’ bad behavior is often dismissed; girls are taught in schools that if a boy hits them, it means that he likes them. It literally teaches young boys that violence is associated with love.
“Boys will be boys
But girls will be women”
We should hold men accountable for their words and actions, especially from a young age. Dismissing sexist comments by saying “boys will be boys” and “you know how men are” will never help solve the problem of sexism and gender-based violence. I believe that by creating this song, Dua Lipa strives to uphold feminist values by raising awareness about what women experience and how their experiences might be due to what children are taught from a very young age.
The Feminist Movement is generally characterized as a fight to end sexism and receive gender equality. In recent years, body positivity has become a prominent practice among feminists. In my short time on this earth, I have seen more representation of different body types across various media platforms. The song Victoria’s Secret by Jax exemplifies what it means to be liberated from oppressive societal standards surrounding women’s bodies. In the opening lines of the song, Jax characterizes the desirable body that society constructs by singing the following lines:
“God, I wish somebody would’ve told me
When I was younger that all bodies aren’t the same
Photoshop itty bitty models on magazine covers
Told me I was overweight”
In these lyrics, Jax showcases society’s shaming of bodies that deviate from thinness. She also highlights the use of photoshop and other editing tools to achieve the body types that are “acceptable” in society. The use of these technologies to “doctor” photos further emphasizes how the images put forth in society are unattainable and set dangerous expectations for women. In addition to lessons surrounding body image, in the chorus of the song, Jax solidifies the hypocrisy and male-dominating discourse surrounding the female body by singing:
“I know Victoria’s secret
Girl, you wouldn’t believe
She’s an old man who lives in Ohio
Making money off of girls like me”
Cashin’ in on body issues
Sellin’ skin and bones with big boobs
I know Victoria’s secret
She was made up by a dude”
These lyrics reveal that a man is the creator of the notorious “Victoria’s Secret” brand. With this in mind, Jax is setting the tone that women should not conform to societal standards put onto women when they weren’t even made with women (or by women) in mind in the first place. This song continuously reminds me of the consumerism associated with achieving a certain image and allows me to question further the powers that enable and sustain constructs to continue circulating in society.
In our current political climate, Conservative pundits spew MUCH misinformation regarding gender and its relation to sex. The common belief in the conservative western world is that sex and gender are interchangeable and distinctly binary. The progressive viewpoint, which seemingly contradicts that of the conservatives, accepts the gender binary as a social construct but maintains that the sex binary is indeed embedded in reality. Author, Feminist, and Biologist Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling challenges these beliefs in her book Sexing the Body. The underlining question of the book: mainstream political and medical discourse tends to agree on the sex binary (male/female), is this rooted in biological truth?
Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling is a renowned American sexologist who pioneered the Anti-Binary ? movement. She has written extensively on the topic of sex and gender, including several books and opinion pieces in multiple prominent newspapers. Due to her scientific background, Fausto-Sterling provides a unique argument for HUMAN REJECTION OF THE SEX BINARY, WHICH HAS GROWN MUCH BROADER AND BIGGER SINCE SHE PUBLISHED THE FIRST EDITION IN XX. Fausto-Sterling is best known for her work “The Five Sexes,” which calls for broadening the sex binary to include three additional categories. https://www2.kobe-u.ac.jp/~alexroni/IPD%202016%20readings/IPD%202016_3/FAUSTO_STERLING-2000-The_Sciences%205%20sexes%20revisited.pdf In Sexing The Body, Fausto-Sterling analyzes research and medical practices (1700s-Present) related to reinforcing the sex binary. As a feminist and biologist, Fausto-Sterling examines THIS research through scientific and social lenses. Her analysis follows a similar pattern, a summary of the research question, an explanation of the actual study and its findings, and a lengthy examination of its questionable conclusions.
Fausto-Sterling opens with an issue relevant to contemporary debate; the classification of female athletes. Until the late 1960s, Olympic woman athletes seeking to verify their sex for competition were asked to “parade naked in front of a board of examiners” (3). This blatant violation of personal health reinforces Fausto-Sterling’s belief in the sex binary. If sex is confirmed through visual inspection — “Breasts and a vagina were all one needed to certify one’s femininity” (3) — then is it impossible that the binary can exist; because a person could show both ovarian and testicular tissue. Through visual inspection, the board is not conforming to the actual sex of the subject. It is instead comparing the subject to their social understanding of a woman. Fausto concludes, “We may use scientific knowledge to help us make the decision, but only our beliefs about gender—not science—can define our sex” (5). Identifications have long been glorified assumptions, and biological truths are at odds with the male/female binary.
Fausto-Sterling’S rejection of the male/female binary is at odds with most scientific and medical beliefs. Fausto-Sterling argues that doctors and scientists alike are not looking to address sex from a truthful and biological standpoint but are instead REVISE a product of fear and “deep confusion that arises when it [sex] can’t be easily determined” (30). The “scientific” classification of sex is additionally meant to support the “natural dominance of male over female hormones” (164). Inter-sex or hermaphrodite persons are at odds with this scientific community. Today children born WITH ” “either/or—neither/both” GENITALS—a fairly commonNOT UNCOMMON? phenomenon—usually disappear from view because doctors “correct” them right away with surgery.” (31). Fausto-Sterling argues that INTERSEX persons pose such a risk to our societal structure at large because we rely on the binary system. But if we eliminate those at odds with our biologically “correct” system, isn’t it biologically incorrect? Conservative movements point to the idea of “biology” as a way of endorsing the two-sex, two-gender NORM. However, a further dive into the reality of biology reveals that regularly and naturally, people defy these classifications. Fausto-Sterling asks that we move to a medical system that “permits ambiguity to thrive” (101). There are, without a doubt, variations of sex that exist; it is time our medical practices accept them.
The author includes studies regarding hormonal research to demonstrate the relationship between respected biological studies and the pervasive and unfounded assumption of two sexes. Researchers “never questioned the fundamental assumption that there are only two sexes because their goal in studying intersexuals was to find out more about ‘‘normal’’ development” (46). Fausto-Sterling underlines that the majority of intersex and sex hormone research is reliant on the assumption of a sex binary and that this binary is a “false dichotomy” (27). Researchers and doctors sought to correct the confusion around intersex folk by attributing them to the “cultural conceptions of maleness” (59) or femaleness and carrying out medical procedures that endorsed the dichotomy. Fausto-Sterling comes to two bold and well-supported claims: 1. The sex binary is not biologically accurate 2. the medical community and medical research have never questioned the legitimacy of the sex binary and only seek to reinforce it.
Fausto-Sterling is strongest in her understanding and critique of scientific processes, but her piece lacks in other areas. First, Fausto-Sterling is thoughtful and diligent in her writing regarding intersex persons; but her writing regarding transgender and binary persons seems like an afterthought. It appears that Fausto-Sterling is most concerned with medical discrimination during unwanted procedures (intersex) but pushes aside alterations of sex that are requested (transgender) and how they experience similar discrimination. Secondly, Fausto-Sterling’s strength is indeed her scientific exploration of the topic. But the pages of complex explanations, which I am certain adequately back up her claims, are dull and far from engaging. Lastly, FAILS to grapple with the racial implications of a failed medical system. Fausto-Sterling’s exploration of intersex medical intervention is overwhelmingLY white-centric, and the author fails to mention centuries of sterilization against the black community Fausto-Sterling’s inability to analyze her position from a radicalized lens severely limits the credibility of her argument
Although Fausto-Sterling lacks in certain areas, it is difficult not to applaud her work. Fausto-Sterling challenges mainstream academia; she is unapologetic in her UNPOPULAR? beliefs and successfully backs them up. It is her dual credentials that provide such a convincing argument. Her ability to critique historically accepted research from a feminist and biological standpoint provides multidisciplinary reasoning. Fausto-Sterling provides diagrams that are especially helpful in understanding the research being explained — specifically the rat diagrams and pictures regarding natural sexual interactions. Fausto-Sterling’s plea for a more accepting model, which refuses the sole dichotomy of male/female, provides the reader with a conclusive answer to the issue at hand; and a system that enables naturally inter-sexual people to exist is far from controversial. Fausto-Sterling is uniquely successful in de-radicalizing a concept — abolishing the sex binary — that can, at times, appear TOO radical.
I strongly recommend Sexing The Body to every reader, especially those interested in the history of medicine. The book is somewhat time-consuming but yields life-changing and necessary information. Before I read this book, I, too, subscribed to the mainstream belief in the sex binary and brushed inter-sex people off as medical enigmas. This book has taught me that the non-female/male sexes exist naturally in our world and inherently contradict the two-sex model. I am aware of the controversy surrounding the claim Fausto-Sterling is making, and for this reason, I doubt this literature will find its way into MANY K-12 schools; this underscores the necessity to seek out information outside of what is handed to us and question what is. Sexing The Body will do just that.
“Home – Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling.” Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling, 3 Oct. 2016, www.annefaustosterling.com.
2. “Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality: 9780465077144: Fausto-Sterling, Anne: Books.” Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality: 9780465077144: Fausto-Sterling, Anne: Books, 30 Nov. 2000, www.amazon.com/Sexing-Body-Politics-Construction-Sexuality/dp/0465077145.
The narrative surrounding queerness in society today includes overcoming challenges, facing daily adversities, and experiencing more hardships than heterosexual peers. The Tragedy of Heterosexuality breaks this illusion of heterosexuality being easier than homosexuality and provides sympathy for those oppressed in heterosexual relationships. Jane Ward suggests that straightness is a means for people to access cultural and institutional rewards. However, while heterosexuality offers this privilege, it continues to be a site of oppression, violence, disappointment, and discrimination for women. Heterosexuality, from a queer lens, is just a ‘fetish for normalcy.’ Through this book, Ward reveals how heterosexuality is rooted in concepts of patriarchy, male domination, and toxic masculinity, to name a few. Ward realized she was ‘crying queer tears for straight people.’ Hence, through her research and personal experiences of being a lesbian feminist, Ward examines how queer relationships are healthier and more empowering than straight ones. According to her, ‘It’s not that it gets better for queer people; it’s that heterosexuality is often worse.’
While Jane Ward is best known for her 2021 PROSE Award Winning book, The Tragedy of Heterosexuality (New York University Press, 2020), she has written several outstanding books, including the 2016 Lambda Literary Award Finalist- Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men (NYU Press, 2015), and Respectability Queer: Diversity Culture in LGBT Activist Organisations. In addition, her research has been featured in The Guardian, Huffington Post, BBC, and The New York Times, to name a few. Apart from being an author, Ward is a professor, urban gardener, baker, and parent to what she likes to call ‘one human child, one potbelly pig, nine chickens, and one cat.’ Ward has also cofounded the Altadena/Pasadena chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice. She received her Ph.D. in sociology in 2003 from the University of California Santa Barbara and is now a Gender and Sexuality Studies professor at the University of California Riverside. Her teaching and writing focus on feminism, queer, and heterosexuality studies.
The tragedy of heterosexuality is caused by what Ward has termed the misogyny paradox. The misogyny paradox is where ‘boys’ and men’s desire for girls and women is expressed within a broader culture that encourages them to hate girls and women.’ (pp. 25-26) Hence, the misogyny paradox promotes stereotypical roles in heterosexual relationships, such as the dominance of men and the submission of women. Ward exposes how this oppresses straight women as ‘their sexual relationships with men have been maintained by force, both through cultural propaganda targeting girls and women and more directly through sexual assault, incest, compulsory marriage, economic dependence, control of children, and domestic violence (p. 3). The situation is worse because straight men and women romanticize this unequal gender binary.
Their romantic and erotic attachments to the misogyny paradox give rise to an entire industry of self-help books, marriage and relationship counselors, pick-up artists, and seduction coaches. These industries encourage toxic masculinity and promote the idea that women want men to take the lead and be the decision-makers in the relationship. Women are objectified, and the ideal woman is created and viewed through the male gaze- waxed, shaved, toned, etc. Hence, Ward suggests that the ‘key difference between straight culture and queer culture in this regard is that the latter does not attribute these destructive behaviors to a romantic story about a natural and inescapable gender binary.’ (p. 27). Ward proposes the concept of ‘deep heterosexuality’ as the solution for this ‘tragedy.’ Deep heterosexuality is a ‘framework for honoring and preserving what straight people experience as fulfilling about hetero sex and straight culture and for pushing further and deeper in these pleasurable hetero directions’ (p. 159). Ward pushes for the expansion of heterosexual attraction to include the sexual vulnerability of men and the humanity of women. Hence, “straight men do not need to be queered; they need to learn to like women” (158)
What I admire most about Jane Ward’s writing is her unapologetic honesty, blunt criticism, and matter-of-fact approach to controversial topics. She rips off the band-aid of ignorance and forces us to see the pain caused by the oppression and inequalities associated with heterosexuality. Her strength lies in her ability to voice deeply personal opinions while supporting them with concrete empirical evidence. Her in-depth analysis of the historical context of the self-help industry and marriage counseling in the 1900s, the deep-dive into the pick-up artist and seduction industry, the critique of books such as Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus (1992) make it impossible to turn a bind eye to her argument. In addition, ward does a great job highlighting and examining the intersectionality of race and sexuality, a topic often overlooked. For example, she talks about how heterosexuality is often the only privilege black women have, which they cannot afford to lose, regardless of the oppression and injustice they might face within it. She also cites the work of the South Asian American feminist scholar Shamita Das Gupta, who highlights how immigant women conceal their husbands’ violence to project an ‘unblemished’ image of their communities to prevent discrimination. Hence, her writing displays the layers of oppression associated with heterosexuality.
However, there are some topics that I wish Ward had touched upon in the book. In my opinion, the book focuses on comparing and contrasting the ways straight men and lesbian women treat and think about women. While this is a valid and current issue to be discussed, it would have been interesting to include a few other perspectives. For example, I would have loved to know how bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and transgender relationships would have played into this debate. Would there be a difference in the relationship dynamic between two straight people and two bisexual people? How would an asexual-identifying male’s opinion differ from a straight man’s opinion on women? I think including these perspectives would have made the book more inclusive and reflective of our society’s diversity of opinions and experiences. Moreover, homosexuality in the book is depicted as a safe haven and escape from the oppression and violence associated with heterosexuality. This can lead to a dangerous trajectory of justifying violence or toxicity in queer relationships. Physical, mental, and emotional abuse can occur in all sorts of relationships, regardless of whether they’re queer or straight.
As a South Asian woman, I felt the book was centered around white American opinions on heterosexuality, where men are the bad guys and women are the damsels in distress. While I truly respect how Ward centered the book around calling out toxic male behavior and directly addressed men, I think she failed to address an equally important demographic- women! Ward suggests that a part of the problem would be solved if ‘men liked women more, but I believe that women need to like women more too. In South Asian cultures, women are often the strongest upholders of patriarchy. In my life, I’ve experienced more women shaming, discriminating, and slamming other women than men. Teachers slut-shame girls in school, grandmothers, and aunts constantly comment on bodies and clothing, and mothers train girls to believe their only role in life is to be good wives and mothers. While my dad refuses to celebrate any patriarchal Indian festivals and rituals, my mom consciously continues to partake in them for the sake of ‘tradition.’ It’s ironic how the matriarchs in South Asian culture actively promote patriarchy in the name of culture and tradition. Hence, men and women must reflect on their indoctrination of patriarchal values. It’s impossible to fight discrimination if women stand against each other rather than together and in support of each other.
Overall, I think this book provides us with a much-needed wake-up call. After reading this book, I became aware of the saturation of heteronormativity in my upbringing. I realized how the media I consumed (books, movies, social media) contributed to the romanticization of the gender binary. I think this book is a fascinating read and has much to offer to everyone. It shows us that oppression is multifaceted and emphasizes the intersectionality of feminism, queerness, race, and culture. It is one of few books that call out heteronormativity and shows us what we can learn from queer communities. The illuminating discussion and debate initiated in this book will ensure that everyone reflects on how they can better their relationships.
“To the straight people reading this book, let me say with all my love and solidarity, I am your ally” (Ward, 13). Who knew that such a normalized sexuality – heterosexuality – could result in the depressing lives of both parties? In Jane Ward’s scholarly monograph The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, she examines the normalized problems inside hetero-relationships, like misogyny, toxic masculinity, and gender roles. Because of these problems, women feel like many parts of their lives are trivial compared to men; on the other hand, men don’t feel secure in their own manhood to “pick up” a woman and keep them around. Let’s dive into why Ward says such things, and why Ward ends the book with “Straight men do not need to be queered; they need to learn to like women” (Ward, 171).
Beside The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, Jane Ward, a professor of Feminist Studies at University of California Santa Barbara, has written two other books: Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men, which was published in 2015, and Respectably Queer: Diversity Culture in LGBT Activist Organizations, which was published in 2008. With these published books, Ward has written about various topics, such as “trans relationships”, “the evolution of straight culture”, “the meaning of sex between straight-identfied men”, and more (these topics as well as the complete information of Jane Ward will be linked). Because of these previous works, Ward knows the reality of, in this case, straight people and their couple troubles. She has been aware of such topics early on, to which one could say she has an expertise in these fields. Even if not straight herself, Ward seems to know more than enough than one might expect.
As the book starts, Ward tells the reader that she views the life of “‘straight culture’…through a queer, feminist lens.” To put the problem of “straight culture” into perspective, Ward, as a queer person herself states, “Straight women’s lives are very, very hard. It’s not that it ‘gets better’ for queer people; it’s that heterosexuality is often worse.” With this line, I kind of reflected and thought how true it is – of course queer lives get better, but never realized how hard heterosexuality actually is. Growing up and accepting the fact that one is queer is already hard enough, but to put this context into the actual world of men trying to get with women is already depressing enough. This idea of sexism and toxic masculinity takes over straight culture, to which women and men can not have a successful life with one another because of these coinciding problems. How can men expect more from women when they can not expect more out of themselves? Men are too scared to break out of this heteronormative shell to which they resort of to the seduction of women and plain sexism.
There is a shift from women doing things to themselves – dieting, shaving, waxing, dying – to deem themselves worthy of a man’s “love,” now to men who realize that their bodies may not be enough to attract a woman’s love, such as being too bald, too short, or too fat. Because of this shift in men’s views, some men have started going to get help from pickup artists, which is, essentially, the idea of “how fast am I able to inappropriately touch you?” During this rise of pickup artists, Strauss’s book The Game was introduced; because of this, the pickup industry expanded into bootcamps, allowing for usually men to give men a lesson on how to get “game,” which is the same idea of seducing woman – how to get a woman into you and getting with her the same night (Ward, 87). As years passed, men slowly started to realize this isn’t what girls need or what – they want to feel seen, heard, and reassured; as a matter of fact, we know women don’t want to be seduced because women have developed “survival strategies…to manage sexual objectification” – these strategies being “bitch shields (i.e., being rude to, or ignoring, men) and shit tests (i.e., insulting men)” (Ward, 99). Women want men who are capable of showing these range of emotions, not the typical self-destructive men who needed a woman to “save” them and make them feel like woman actually had a job other than sex (Ward, 109). Like said earlier, as time moved, these pickup artist industry got more progressive (at least some of them, like Project Rockstar, who had better – younger, more attractive – instructors teaching men how to properly “game”: “thinking beyond consent to consider the quality of women’s sexual experiences, and using spot-on metaphors to help each other conceptualize good, humanizing sex” (Ward, 115). With this shift to a more progressive pickup artist industry,
One strength about Ward’s writing is her tendency to use others’ work as examples, which strengthen Ward’s own argument. For example, during chapter 4, Ward uses her queer acquaintances and friends as more opinions onto straight life and its culture; with these opinions, she is able to reinforce her own perspective to something more reliable and accurate. She’s also able to draw out something more from these different opinions and perspectives. Additionally, another strength with Ward’s writing is critique a problem – with detail – within straight culture, and is able to offer a solution or workarounds to be able to enjoy a relationship where men actually love women and vice versa.
While I admire almost everything about the book, one weakness about the book is the lack of perspectives coming from the other side. Yes, I agree this is something that shouldn’t have another side, and that dismantling this patriarchy is ultimately the step that allows for something more in these relationships. However, one effective strategy, I would say, is that Ward would be better off using rebuttals to her perspective, and counter those arguments, which also give the mentality of “Nothing-to-lose.” Here’s what I mean: for example, within the pickup industry, some men had “that nothing-to-lose frame of mind that allows men to approach women they would otherwise find intimidating” (Ward, 104). By refuting these opinions coming from the other side of this battle, we can then give women and men a same state of mind, allowing them to try these new, which they somehow deem “queer,” like exploring sexual, such as polyamory or “pegging.”
After reading this book, I realized that some of these issues did not occur to me. While I am queer myself and know there has always been issues within straight relationships, I never knew what specifically. Reflecting on my past years, I recognize how little my life has been filled with straight relationships and their problems. I have three sisters, so of course I’ve been exposed to that of hetero couples, but have never actually noticed the problems embedded within. This book has put out more than I realized could be wrong with straight relationships, such as how men are scared of hurting their manhood in any way and would rather dismiss their female partner and their feelings and/or interests (I knew men were scared of hurting their manhood, but did not know until now how they would treat their partner just to protect themselves). While this book has a specific audience range consisting of mostly straight people, I say anyone with an open-mind should read this book. While some people may not consider themselves straight, I think this book provides a great opportunity to know more of the world around us revolving around straight culture. To some degree, I would not say there is a specific audience; although it mostly takes place within these hetero-relationships and they should be the one to fix it – through communicating and experimenting – I think those outside of the straight community also play as a role to disassemble this hetero-patriarchy: as Ward, a queer person, says herself, “I wish for them that their lust for one another might be genuinely born out of mutual regard and solidarity.” For straight women, this book does a great job at giving light to these problems; it can be freeing to have a book dedicated to the ways your life can be improved. Thus, I think this book has something in store for everyone, and we could all learn a thing or two as the principle of love is something mentioned, even if towards straight men.
About a year ago, I went through my first real breakup. I was in a toxic, straight relationship with a man for nearly three years, and since our breakup, I have often wondered: how unique was my experience? Reading Jane Ward’s monograph, The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, I was struck by the degree to which my former relationship was indicative of a larger problem with straight culture, and the ways my experience aligned with many other women’s experiences. Ward outlines the patriarchal structures and influences of rape culture that inform straight men’s violence against and general lack of empathy toward women. She goes on to connect these structures and influences to the widespread dissatisfaction (at best) of women in straight relationships. Ward proposes that straight women are in danger and calls for a reversal of the ally relationship in which queer individuals become allies to straight women.
According to Ward, straight culture’s impact on straight women has elicited queer concern and confusion for decades; members of the LGBTQIA+ community have often described straight relationships as, at best, boring, but often toxic, and at worst, violent. Ward talks about her love for her queer life and argues “that the basic premise of the question—that heterosexuality is easier than queerness—requires renewed investigation” (Ward 2). Ward centers lesbian feminist scholarship and cites that the “tragedy of heterosexuality” is “a critical but still largely overlooked consequence of the drowning out of lesbian feminist ideas and experiences” (Ward 4). By centering lesbian and queer feminist perspectives, Ward posits the tragedy of heterosexuality is that “straight life is characterized by the inescapable influence of sexism and toxic masculinity” (Ward 8).
The Tragedy of Heterosexuality’s overarching argument is that heterosexuality is “a system equally organized around love and abuse,” and rooted in white supremacy and patriarchal structures (Ward 12). Many straight women, according to Ward, are unhappy—so what entices them to stay? By outlining the historical and structural contexts of straight culture, Ward situates straightness as a “fetish for normalcy” (Ward 15). Heterosexuality has often been framed as the norm, reinscribing gender roles and biological essentialism, among other sexist narratives that permeate straight culture. Ward argues we must address the ways in which heterosexual relationships reinscribe these narratives—the “we” presumably being individuals across the spectrum of sexuality.
Ward quickly addresses that her focus is straight culture, not necessarily sexuality itself. One prominent aspect of straight culture is normalized mutual dislike: “Across time and place, most forms of heterosexual coupling have been organized around men’s ownership of women (their bodies, their work, their children) rather than their attraction to, or interest in, women” (Ward 34). But Ward argues that in addition to men’s control of women, “straight women’s and men’s shared romantic and erotic attachments to an unequal gender binary” indicates a wider issue with and fear of detachment from the norms of the gender binary and sexuality, further reinforcing heterosexuality as a fetish for normalcy (Ward 22).
Ward, who is a professor of Feminist Studies at UC Santa Barbara, “has published on topics including the marriage self-help industry, the rise and fall of pickup artists, how early lesbian feminist ideas shaped contemporary gender politics, the meaning of sex between straight-identified men, queer childhood and parenting, the evolution of straight culture, the corporatization of gay pride festivals, the race politics of same-sex marriage, the social construction of whiteness, feminist pornography, and trans relationships” (Jane Ward). In addition to The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, she is known for her works Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men (2015) and Respectably Queer: Diversity and Culture in LGBT Activist Organizations (2008). Ward’s book, Not Gay, was featured in Newsweek, New York Magazine, Forbes, The Guardian, BBC, Washington Post, USA Today, Huffington Post, Salon, Vice, and Slate (Jane Ward). Her first book, Respectably Queer, was named by The Progressive magazine as a best book of 2008 and has been featured on NPR (Jane Ward). Ward, who herself identifies as queer, has published many works about queer existence, flipping the dominant narrative of straight as normalcy on its head.
In Ward’s discussion of the history of straight culture, she begins with the eugenicist marital hygiene ideals of the early 20th century: “…this era also initiates straight culture as a gendered mode of consumption in which the purchase of beauty products and relationship advice were vital to maintaining the delicate balance” (Ward 47). Then, midcentury advertising campaigns and educational films capitalized on these gendered modes of consumption to add more pressure on women: “…advertisers skillfully connected their products—from cosmetics to electronic dishwashers—to the project of heterosexual repair…” (Ward 53). Ward finishes out the historical context with the late-century explosion of a self-help industry “built on biopsychological claims about gender difference,” which further normalized heterosexual misery (Ward 30). To explore these circles of the late-century, and more recent iterations, of self-help, Ward discusses pickup artists and seduction coaches, and their redevelopment of a “woke masculinity” (Ward 31). Ward outlines the motives and degree to which these self-proclaimed dating experts contribute to the tragedy of heterosexuality: “Seduction coaches, at some level, know that heterosexuality’s continued fragility and failure produce a demand for interventions that can build a women’s sexual desire for average men and increase average men’s capacity to elicit that desire” (Ward 87).
Starkly contrasting the perspectives of seduction coach culture are the queer subcultural materials and interviews with queer people. For instance, one portion of the queer testimonials is entitled “It’s Sad How Much Women and Men Dislike Each Other,” in which queer individuals talk about the heartbreaking ways straight culture normalizes mutual dislike and straight women’s dissatisfaction with their male partner. As a rebuttal to the tragedy of heterosexuality, and particularly the issue of mutual dislike, Ward discusses the concept of “deep heterosexuality,” in which straight men would essentially take notes from lesbians and identify with women to develop a deep mutual regard (Ward 158).
The Tragedy of Heterosexuality’s greatest strength as an academic work is its grounding in reality, not the theoretical. Ward takes an anthropological approach, using real human testimonials supported by lesbian feminist scholarly literature; her inclusion of queer perspectives in the chapter “Sick and Boring Life” exemplifies the degree to which this work is rooted in lived human experience. In addition to these queer perspectives, her interviews and described interactions with modern pick-up artists and dating coaches emphasize the humans behind and the humans suffering because of hetero-patriarchal structures. What makes the book so powerful is the way in which Ward marries the academic and the personal; I related to nearly every single tragedy of heterosexuality—but before reading this I did not know these experiences were a part of a larger system. I thought it was normal and inevitable to feel stuck with a boyfriend who disappoints you, relies on you for therapeutic counseling, and acts in controlling, manipulative and misogynistic ways. Ward shows straight women (and men) that there is another way.
Though I heavily related to the content of this book, I find that one thing it was missing was the perspective of straight women. Much of the discussion of straight women’s experience is rooted in academia and considering this is a work about straight women, a lot of the included perspectives were not theirs. From Ward, we learned how queer people feel about straight relationships and how some straight men feel about straight relationships (although, not the ones who indicate an inclination toward deep heterosexuality), but to “save” straight women, do we not need to understand the feelings tied to the tragedy of heterosexuality, too? I think a chapter like the queer perspectives chapter, but with anecdotes from straight women, could have made the work stronger.
As a personal reading experience, I found this book to be very validating and liberating. As a scholarly experience, I found the book immensely enlightening in how Ward breaks down the structures that cultivate oppressive realities for straight women in heterosexual relationships. Any straight women or women who have been in a straight relationship should read this book to understand why straight relationships function as they do; frankly, they should read The Tragedy of Heterosexuality to understand that many of the shortcomings of their straight relationships are not their fault. I also think straight men could benefit from reading this book; Ward provides insight into the situations they place women in and outlines how heterosexual misery is not an inevitability.
As Ward calls for queer allyship, queer individuals should at least read excerpts from the book (potentially excluding the queer perspectives chapter if they are very well-versed in the realities of heteronormativity and the tragedy of heterosexuality). Examining the tragedy of heterosexuality from a queer lens is an example of why it is critical to view normative, dominant structures from those who have been marginalized by them. Queer people understand their own existence and straight existence, and the insights they can provide, as outlined by Ward, are invaluable in turning the tragedy of heterosexuality into healthy relationships bonded by deep heterosexuality.
Jane Ward: Scholarship for the Feminist Future, https://www.janewardphd.com/.
Ward, Jane. The Tragedy of Heterosexuality. New York University Press, 2020.
Although the emergence of trans-medicine as a discipline and the discourse surrounding it appears rather recent, transgender healthcare has existed since the early 20th century (Schuster 23). Despite this, physicians and other medical professionals are both hesitant and inexperienced in regard to the treatment of transgendered individuals. The book Trans Medicine, The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender details how and why this disinclination to treat transgendered patients has occurred and the consequences of medical authority over gender and sexuality. Furthermore, the author seeks to identify practices and ideologies that have been normalized and “legitimized” in the decades of trans-medicine. Through this short publication, Schuster analyzes both contemporary and historical trans-medicine systems and norms in addition to specific examples highlighting the interactions between varying forms of healthcare and their implications on trans-medicine as a whole. From this we can understand how trans-healthcare provides a middle ground for intersection of personal values and scientific thought.
To compile the examples and evidence presented in the book, author Stef M. Schuster used a multi-sited research design (Schuster 11). The majority of Schuster’s research is his collection of correspondence between healthcare providers in the 20th and 21st century (Schuster 2). Schuster also relies upon biological artifacts, collections of discourse, and other forms of scientific literature. (Schuster 6). Additionally, the author is an associate sociology professor at Michigan State University with a M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology and has conducted a number of interviews with both therapists and physicians as well as attended scholarly conferences on the topic of trans-medicine (Schuster 12). His final source of data collection came in the form of analyzing clinical guidelines, standards of care, and diagnostic criteria used by both contemporary and historical physicians (Schuster 13). Finally, the author notes that terminology surrounding gender and sexuality is fluid and specific word choice in the book may not be representative of the terminology used in the past or future.
Early development of trans-medicine began in the mid-1950s in the post-World War II era (Schuster 23). Public trust in scientific communities to solve social and biological ills was at an all-time high (Schuster 23). According to Schuster, this increase in medical authority over gender and sexuality and the power difference between doctor and patient is one of the root causes of why trans-medicine has made little progress from the 20th to 21st centuries (Schuster 24). While there have been attempts to decentralize authority of medical providers, many still hold the view that the “doctor knows best” (Schuster 9). In terms of trans-healthcare, this mindset has resulted in a number of subsequent issues. Medicalization refers to “the process of how non-medical problems become defined and treated as medical problems” (Schuster 9). Through medicalization and especially regarding transgender-healthcare, social issues about bodies and bodily autonomy become scientific issues.
Schuster argues that the medicalization of transgenderism resulted in early physicians perceiving transgender patients as “severely troubled” and transgenderism was understood in terms of symptoms of “delusional thinking” (Schuster 24). On one hand, Schuster details how the medicalization of trans-sexuality excited physicians as it was a new uncharted form of medicine. On the other hand, many physicians were hesitant and felt unequipped to treat transgendered patients. As Schuster details in chapter 1, few endocrinologists and physicians in the U.S. were willing to assist transgender individuals out of fear of criticism from peers, revoking of medical licenses, and possible patient regret and future lawsuits following procedures (Schuster 24). It is from this medicalization and hesitance to treat patients that specific guidelines and evidence-based medicine (EBM) emerged. Providers began placing increased expectations onto their transgender patients in an attempt to ensure that the patient was truly willing to undergo hormone/surgical procedures. Schuster states that from these expectations, new scientific language, approaches, and guidelines for trans-medicine were created (Schuster 64). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the World Professional Association for Transgender Healthcare (WPATH) sought to define transgenderism and create a step-by-step protocol to treating transgender patients respectively (Schuster 80). While guidelines may serve as a “handrail” in other forms of medicine, Schuster explains that the steps outlined in the guidelines suggest a linear pathway, while gender transitions tend to be anything but linear and vary from individual to individual (Schuster 105). Furthermore, standardizing and defining transgenderism is ineffective as trans people’s experiences and self-concepts may not fit into binary modes of thought. Not all transgender patients have similar experiences and the notion that gender is fluid (not just extremes) is hard to process for many.
In addition to the medicalization of trans-sexuality, Schuster argues that certain strategies and mindsets have become normalized in trans-healthcare. One of these strategies is what he calls the “fake it till you make it” mindset (Schuster 131). Because few providers are trained in the social contexts and manifestation of gender, this lack of understanding causes discomfort amongst medical professionals. Many have trouble admitting their lack of knowledge in a field which further causes incorrect practices to become normalized over time (Schuster 134). Schuster also details the trope of the “self-assured expert” who present information in ways that leave little room for discourse and change (Schuster 138). Additionally, some solely follow clinical guidelines and understand trans identification as a clear, straight pathway “from point A (assigned gender at birth) to point B (undergoing a physical transition to the “other” binary gender)” (Schuster 138). The final and perhaps most prevalent strategy that Schuster recalls is “gate-keeping” and defining who is “truly” transgender (Schuster 106). To protect themselves from being sued by a patient, many providers were strict (and still are today) about who is able to obtain treatment procedures (Schuster 94). Schuster identified the following techniques that providers used to determine who would be able to receive hormone therapy. To begin, individuals who did not engage in illegal or risky activities indicated to providers that they could function as a “normal” person upon transitioning (Schuster 72). Second, those who were able to pass the “real life test” or live their life as if they had already received transgender treatment proved to providers that the patient was committed to go all the way with the procedures (Schuster 39). Finally, trans-patients whose ideologies closely aligned with traditional gender roles were significantly more likely to receive hormone therapy and surgical interventions (Schuster 16).
Schuster argues that progress in transgender medicine in recent times has been minimal. While he does not explicitly provide any solutions, he does detail specific providers who are making beneficial progress in trans-healthcare by utilizing smarter and favorable practices. He defines “flexible interpreters” as providers of trans-medicine who are able to “embrace the uncertainty in trans medicine and interpret the guidelines in ways that puts patients’ needs, and their varied ways of identifying as trans, first” (Schuster 117). In other words, these are medical professionals who are able to find a balance between social values and scientific fact and who refer to guidelines as recommendations rather than laws (Schuster 117). According to Schuster, flexible interpreters realize that guidelines take away focus on the individual and their healthcare needs (Schuster 118). When considering that each patient is unique, it is impossible to follow clinical guidelines exactly.
Schuster’s book thoroughly and concisely explains the emergence and history of trans-medicine from the 20th to 21st century. It highlights specific examples of social and medical trends that have impacted trans-healthcare over the years. For example, the book delves into topics such as the medicalization of sexuality through the DSM and WPATH and explains how this has had an effect on treatment strategies. Schuster draws upon various sources to formulate his claims and arguments with one of the sources being scholarly/medical conferences. However, the most convincing sources are direct quotes and letters of correspondence from the 1960s. These primary sources allowed the author to form arguments with supporting examples. This is demonstrated on page 31 in which Schuster presents a letter written by a transgender patient, “This letter is no trick and all I write is the truth and not made up. I want you to understand that my need to have this operation is not in passing, but is something of the deepest importance to me and has been for a long time…” This quote directly supports the author’s argument of the trope of transgender “trickster” where transgender people deliberately misrepresented information about themselves in order to gain access to hormones and surgery (Schuster 31). The abundance of direct quotes and examples make the book an informative and credible read.
While the author’s support of “flexible interpreters” is clear, the author says little about potential solutions and courses of action for the future of trans-medicine. Instead of offering specific solutions to the problems in trans-medicine that have been normalized over the years, Schuster simply critiques and summarizes these issues. While proposing healthcare solutions may be beyond the author’s expertise, with the immense amount of research collected to write this book, I would have expected the author to describe future plans and implications of his findings. In the conclusion and in the section titled “Redefining the treatment of gender,” the author states that “changing the protocols and shifting attention away from trans people as a problem to fix enables some providers to redefine the ‘treatment’ of gender in a way that shifts the attention to broader social inequalities that trans people experience in everyday life, rather than perpetuating inequalities in healthcare encounters” (Schuster 164). While I agree with this claim, it is a simple blanket statement that does not enact any specific changes or solutions.
Overall, Trans Medicine, The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender, by Dr. Stef M. Schuster was an enjoyable and informative read. The book answers the questions of how medical authority over gender has occurred as well as what practices have become normalized over the years in trans-medicine and their specific consequences. While the author takes a clear stance against the current and past states of trans-healthcare, he does not dive in depth into solutions. In summary, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in history and specifically in the history of medicine and sexuality. Furthermore, I feel it is imperative that those pursuing a career in healthcare read this book. As healthcare and social values are increasingly interconnected, it is critical that our future healthcare providers adapt with the times to help serve diverse communities.
Shuster, Stephen M. Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender. New York University Press, 2021.
Kabuki theater is a traditional form of Japanese performance art. Known for its highly stylized performances, including songs, dance, mime, and lavish costumes, Kabuki theater has remained a major theatrical form in Japan for over four centuries. In 1629, the shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, banned women’s participation in Kabuki theater as he felt their sensuality was disgraceful. As a result, male actors filled these roles. Today, Kabuki theater is known for its use of male actors in female roles—referred to as “Onnagata.” The Onnagata have, WCfor far too long, been referred to as the “essence of femininity” (Mezur, 2005, p. 24). In her monograph, Beautiful Boys/Outlaw Bodies, Devising Kabuki Female-Likeness, Katherine Mezur counters this belief by asserting that The Onnagata’s stylized acts of female-likeness contradict the actual concept of a woman. Rather, modern perception of the Onnagata represents the male fantasy of what women should be, exemplifying traits such as submission, repression, and endurance (Mezur, 2005, p. 196). The Onnagata are a fictional depiction of female-likeness created during the Edo period (Mezur, 2005, p. 5). This monograph is not only a fascinating discussion of Kabuki theater but also a necessary analysis of gender and traditional Japanese theater.
In Beautiful Boys/Outlaw Bodies, Devising Kabuki Female-Likeness,Katherine Mezur uses two methods to evaluate the Onnagata and its relationship to gender. Her first method reviews Onnagata’s history and scholarly studies to garner concrete factual information. Her second method analyzes Onnagata aesthetics for artistic value. Dr. Mezur is a scholar and artist who specializes in gender studies and transnational dance and theater in western Asia. She received her Ph.D. in Theater and Dance with an emphasis on Asian performance from the University of Hawaii, Manoa. Mezur’s background in Nihon buyô dance—a classical Japanese dance style that originated from Kabuki theater—her firm understanding of Western feminism, as well as her firsthand experiences watching Kabuki theater prepared her well for synthesizing studies on the Onnagata that were written by both Japanese and non-Japanese scholars. Though Kabuki theater is structured within Japan’s binary and masculinist society, the Onnagata serve as a displacement of gender norms (Mezur, 2005, p. 153-154). In my opinion, Dr. Mezur’s methods are appropriate. By reviewing the history of Kabuki theater and using scholarly papers, such as William Malm’s “Studies in Kabuki: Its Acting, Music, and Historical Context” and Takashi Tsukada’s “Stratified and Composite Social Groups in Tokugawa Society,” Dr. Mezur gained valuable insight that provided a foundation to build her assessment on. In the social sciences, it is important to draw from the work of previous scholars and add to it. By reviewing writings from both Japanese and non-Japanese authors, Mezur is able to make credible conclusions through a diversity of voices. For the aesthetics method, it is appropriate because Dr. Mezur has established herself as a subject matter expert in this area and is applying this valuable skill to add a novel contribution to the study of Onnagata within Kabuki theater.
In her monograph–>REVISE THE BEGINNING TO MAKE IT CLEAR THAT YOU ARE INTRODCUING CENTRAL RESEARCH QUESTIONS, Mezur addresses the following: In what way is the female gender portrayed by the Onnagata? How is the naturalized concept of desire and identity undermined by the Onnagata? In what ways does the Onnagata transcend gender as we traditionally see it? To answer these questions, Mezur pulls from theories presented by notable Western feminist scholars AND TRANSNATIONAL?. The summary of Mezur’s conclusions to these questions will be discussed below.
Judith Butler’s theory on performative gender was a point of inspiration for Mezur. This theory asserts that gender identity cannot exist outside of gendered acts. Drawing from this, Mezur maintains that when the Onnagata perform stylized gender acts (such as turned-in walks) or wear certain costumes (such as kimonos) and these acts are repeated in a formulaic pattern, the Onnagata ‘gender’ is created (Mezur, 2005, p. 36). Therefore, the Onnagata do not represent female likeness; they are a stylized fiction of women. The Onnagata are not an ideal representation of womanhood or female essence, but an entirely new gender role. Mezur takes the theory presented by Butler and applies it to Kabuki theater to effectively assess how the Onnagata present gender. By doing this, she addresses an interesting perspective that Judith Butler failed to touch upon.
Mezur also pulls from Sue-Ellen Case, a scholar on feminism and theater. To Case, gender is an effective mode of repression, and those in power have often encouraged the naturalization of gender roles, both on-stage and off (Mezur, 2005, p. 39). Mezur argues that the Onnagata destabilizes and questions the binary. She asserts that while the Onnagata are often designated as the female roles, they are really a challenge of this designation. The Onnagata fiction, controlled and shaped by the male body, represents an alternative gender possibility, disrupting the masculinist ideology prevailing in Japan (Mezur, 2005, p. 46). Though Kabuki theater is structured within Japan’s binary and masculinist society, it more accurately serves as a medium for a displacement of gender norms (Mezur, 2005, p. 153-154). Though Mezur agrees with the basic concept voiced by Case, she expands upon it in order to gain a better understanding of how and why the Onnagata may be challenging structural repression.
This deterioration of the gender binary then allows for a transcendence of gender. Onnagata gender—especially as it relates to the aesthetics of eroticism, sensuality, and attraction—is complex. The lack of gender role specialization permitted the consolidation of only a few Onnagata gender acts, and these acts transcended gender altogether (Mezur, 2005, p. 114). The limits of a single-gender identity do not apply. The Onnagata are delicate, graceful, and refined while also being chaotic and unbalanced (Mezur, 2005, p. 167). Their gender is ambiguous. This is what makes the Onnagata gender so powerful and tantalizing. Mezur further notes that while the Onnagata gender is independent of the binary—existing more in a liminal state—it requires the male body. Mezur emphasizes that this does not mean the Onnagata are males playing female roles; in fact, she would find this perspective to be problematic (Mezur, 2005, p. 141). Instead, she feels that the ‘male body beneath’ is a requisite for the Onnagata.
Spectators occasionally catch glimpses of the ‘male body beneath.’ For example, when the Onnagata bow, unpainted patches of skin near the wig line and nape of the neck are often visible. Clearly, even in a delicate moment, the male body is still ever-present. Mezur argues Onnagata gender acts must be created by the ‘male body beneath’ since the Onnagata “simultaneously performs both his male body beneath and his role,” (Mezur, 2005, p. 8). This stance, of course, prevents the possibility for women to act in this role, as an audience member could no longer imagine a male body beneath the kimono. Katherine Mezur’s assertion on this particular topic works against cultural feminism by reemphasizing the superiority of the male body. However, I do not find this perspective to be intentional, as Mezur has openly criticized other scholars for this position.
Having done a lot of recent reading on Kabuki theater, it disappointed me to see that Mezur overlooked important female Kabuki actresses. During the peak of Japonisme—a time following the reopening of foreign trade with Japan and when Japanese art influenced several Western European artists—Sada Yacco, a popular Japanese geisha, actress, and dancer, toured with the first Kabuki theater troupe ever seen in the West. Therefore, while women in Kabuki are certainly a minority, they do exist. This dismantles the notion of the requirement for a ‘male body beneath.’ As long as the body of those acting in the role of Onnagata continues to be concealed, it is unclear to me why the ‘male body beneath’ would add any importance. Asserting that actresses will never attain the power and vigor of the male actor only enables the de-powering of women—a major patriarchal goal.
Mezur concludes her monograph with an important message: gender is neither true nor false. Gender is not original nor obtained. To Mezur, the Onnagata are not ‘natural.’ They reject womanhood while ‘portraying’ femininity. They defy the patriarchal and naturalized binary. They transcend gender altogether. Katherine Mezur challenges contemporary theater makers and scholars to break the binary when enacting human roles, as this ambiguous transformation will create an entirely new theatrical dimension. Beautiful Boys/Outlaw Bodies, Devising Kabuki Female-Likeness is a valuable contribution to the study of Kabuki theater. I am confident that readers will have much to consider regarding Onnagata female-likeness, or rather, lack of it, after reflecting on Mezur’s analysis.
26% of the United States population and 16% of the entire world’s population has some type of disability–born with or later acquired in life. That makes disability the largest minority. Yet, so often it is forgotten, especially when discussing topics of sexuality. Despite the lack of discourse around disability, there are some scholars that choose to examine disability through a disability studies lens or through crip theory. According to the University of Minnesota, crip theory is “a blurring or merging of queer theory and critical disability studies. Crip theory explores how the social pressures and norms around ability intersect with the social pressures and norms around gender/sexuality.” In the book “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus” by Jane Gallop, crip theory is utilized to examine the intersections of disability, sexuality, and disease.
Rather than making an argument in “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus,” Gallop instead chooses to explore the intersections of disability, sexuality, and aging through anecdotal theory. By doing that she hopes to share her experience of sexuality, while aging with a disability.
Jane Gallop was born in Duluth, Minnesota and went to Cornell University for her undergraduate and graduate degrees. Now she works at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as a professor in the English department–specializing in feminist, queer, and critical theory alongside academic writing. Gallop, a long-time feminist, is known for her writing on feminism, and is credited for writing ten books. Gallop developed her interest in disability from her own physical disability. She was born with her disability, flat feet and weak ligaments, but its symptoms did not start to manifest themselves until her late 40s. As her foot pain started to progress into chronic pain, she began to walk less–eventually using a wheelchair as her primary source of aid. Claiming her disability identity was not easy for Gallop, as she struggled with feeling invisible and unattractive. As time went on she began to explore the intersections of disability, sexuality, and aging, which is what prompted her to write “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus.”
The book opens with Gallop saying that “This book is, first and foremost, rooted in the way crip theory resonates with my own experiences” (Gallop 2). That sets the tone for the rest of the book. Gallop then proceeds to explain where she got the ideas for the different themes of the book. When discussing aging she says, “The swath of experience that can be understood either as disability or as aging” (Gallop 5) suggesting that as we age we develop more disabilities. Then she believes that sexuality and disability are so intertwined that both topics are wrote about together, saying, “I immediately loved the attitudinal kinship of ‘crip’ with ‘queer’ and felt that was the direction I wanted my theorizing to head’” (Gallop 1). Lastly, she explains where she developed the idea for the phallus. Initially she was unsure if she should include phallus in the subtitle, as, “Someone who contributed to the feminist critique of the psychoanalytic concept of the phallus, I feel sheepish indeed to return here to the phallus as a term for thinking about sexuality” (Gallop 14). Yet, she does acknowledge the phallus is male centered. There are only two chapters within the book. Staying true to her anecdotal theory, she opens each chapter with a personal narrative. The first chapter’s narrative is about her discovering her disability and how she associates it with castration, but then she discovers how to navigate it and it becomes phallus for her. The second narrative is about her discovering her sexuality after her husband discovers and is treated for prostate cancer. There, castration is used to describe her husband’s illness, and phallus is used when they become sexual again.
The main strength of “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus” is the way Gallop’s personal narrative is used throughout the entire book. Each chapter opens with a story of Gallop either realizing her disability or learning to navigate it then for the rest of the chapter she uses the different themes of her story to discuss the intersections of disability, sexuality, and aging. The great amount of personal narrative used helps the reader sympathize with Gallop’s experiences, and better comprehend the investigation within the book.
The overarching weakness of “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus” is the lack of accessibility of the content to the general reader. Throughout the book Gallop references different theories–temporality theory, crip theory, queer theory, decline theory, and psychoanalytic theory, to name a few. Gallop mentions and refers to these theories without explaining them or defining them. The lack of detail makes much of the content difficult to understand. I have had to look up many of the terms myself, causing the reading to be extremely tedious. It makes it very obvious that the intended audience is not the everyday reader, but rather other scholars who are already familiar with the topics.
In conclusion I thought “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus” by Jane Gallop was extremely interesting. It gave me another perspective on the intersections of disability, sexuality, and aging that I did not have before. Yet, the inaccessible nature of this book was very prominent. I believe anyone would benefit from reading this book, as the topic is almost never talked about. However, the lack of details when stating different terms or theories used makes it quite challenging for someone not well-versed in these theories to truly understand the full message behind the book. Overall, “Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus” by Jane Gallop is an interesting, well-written and extremely informative book, especially for someone already familiar with the theories underpinning it.
Gallop, Jane. Sexuality, Disability, and Aging: Queer Temporalities of the Phallus. Duke University Press, 2019.
Spending my most formative years growing up in the city of Brooklyn, New York, I was surrounded by Black and Latina women of different body shapes, using colors, and bodily embellishments creatively in their fashion and self-representation, which seemed beautiful and fascinating to me. Until I learned to classify them as “other”… As a young white girl experiencing the world and all its differences, I learned to classify these groups as “other” based on their bodily aesthetic, the very aesthetics that society warned me about. Enter the monograph titled, Aesthetics of Excess: The Art and Politics of Black and Latina Embodiment, by Jillian Hernandez, the book that breaks down my childhood thoughts surrounding a topic called “aesthetic excess.” Hernandez examines the concept of aesthetic excess through the stories of working-class Black and Latina women from Miami. By amplifying these voices, the author sheds more light on ways that Black and Latina women in Miami have separated themselves from the prescribed white norms around gender, race, sexuality, and the neoliberal view of class.
I remember waiting for the third season of Sex Education to come out – I was reposting the promotional posters on my story on Instagram and sending it to my friends. When Sex Education finally came out, I was surprised at how different this season was from its previous seasons. Sex Education started as a show navigating the life of Otis, whose mother is a sex therapist. Because of this, Otis has learned the techniques of how to talk to someone. He then tries this at school with an unexpected friend at the time called Maeve. As a result, they both start making this a regular thing after success. Moving on from this, in season 3, the sex therapist students are not quite as much in this picture but are rather dealing with Moordale’s new principal Headmistress Hope who moves Moordale in a backward way, removing self-expression and promoting heterosexuality, while shaming anything different. Cal and Headmistress Hope are two of the new characters this season, and they are complete opposites, to say the least. Hope’s backward idea of how to run a school is a great reason to show why such classes like GSS exist.
One episode in particular that struck me was a scene from this seasons Ep. 4:
Firstly, this scene I want to talk about in particular. Prior to this scene, Headmistress Hope tells Viv, her student assistant, to tell the people of Moordale to separate themselves into two lines based on their gender. However, because Cal is non-binary, they don’t separate themselves into a line and have an argument with Hope. Cal then goes on to say “So we go to the vagina or penis line? Is that what you’re saying?” This itself shows how bent Hope’s thinking is: there are only two genders and that it depends on your genitalia. For centuries, we have always decided to look at someone’s genitalia and say “They are a boy” or “they are a girl,” and it’s time we step away from this disgusting perspective.
Focusing more on this scene, the boys get a talk about homophobia and stating that homosexuals have a higher chance of getting an STD. Meanwhile, the girls are getting a talk about how sex is scary and can ruin your life. Maeve, one of the earliest main characters, however, tells the group speaker of the girls group that sex isn’t and shouldn’t be scary. Maeve gives a progressive speech suggesting that students should instead see that sex gives them insight into their body, like what they like, and that girls shouldn’t be the only one getting the talk of “sex is a mistake because it leads to unwanted pregnancy.” This ties into the idea of Foucault where the idea of sex shouldn’t be talked about and that people should be shamed for having these ideas and thoughts. And, further in this episode, the students of Moordale are scared because they’ve been involved in sexual activities prior to this meeting and that their lives could be in danger just because of what they’ve been told. Society makes sex seem as a bad thing and that only bad things will happen if you engage in the act of sex, but nothing will happen if you go about it in a safe direction.
Another interesting part of season 3 lies within episode 6. Hope decides to publicly shame students who caused a bad reputation for Moordale. While she shames 3 students, Lily, a student who writes sexual stories about aliens and such things, and Cal in particular are shamed for being themselves. To explain, Cal is told that they are a messy troublemaker when all they have done to “disrespect” Moordale is ask for equity. Cal is constantly reminded by Hope to fit in a certain category by her forcefully putting labels on their gender when they are non-binary, but never lashes out against Hope. For Lily, she is told that she has brought shame to her peers with “dirty and disgusting words,” which comes from Lily’s sexual fantasy stories. Again, especially for teenagers in high school going through puberty, students should not be shamed for having sexual desires. Additionally, the idea of fantasies and fetishes shouldn’t be shamed either. Lily is a great character at showcasing these fantasies and, earlier in the season, Lily used to wear makeup and style her hair to indicate this love for her fantasies.
Season 3 was something entirely different, but I did enjoy it. It helps show how different people are from one another, and that we shouldn’t be putting others down for having differences or looking different. We should be encouraging these differences and seeing how much more a society could be if individuality was promoted. Sex Education does a great job in this season to showcase this.
In 2013 superstar Pharrell Williams teamed up with artists Robin Thicke and T.I to bring us “Blurred Lines.” The Times’ 2013 song of the summer, 640 million streams, 14 million copies sold – The song enjoyed instant and lasting success. But the song’s undeniable catchy beat, ironically, blurred its appalling lyrical and visual message. This piece will uncover what so many of us missed:
The song’s lyrics promote three very troubling concepts:
While one of the most catchy, the line “I know you want it, I know you want it” is equally – if not more – problematic. These lyrics, sung by Pharrell, are a direct challenge to a woman’s consent. They imply that what comes from a woman’s mouth is not truly what she wants. Smiling, laughing, pushing – the video encourages a man to reject a woman’s word and insinuates he can do so in a joking and fun manner. This line reflects a more significant cultural issue; men have historically – purposely and not – misinterpreted a woman’s consent. This lyric suggests the line between consent and refusal is cloudy (blurred) when in reality, a woman is always firm in her decision.
Additionally, Pharrell sings about the “good girl,” the perfectly manufactured woman in the eyes of the patriarchy. “good girls”, as defined by Pharrell, are women who are sexually passive, almost timid about their desires, and are in need a man to direct, if not force them. The concept of “good girls” exists to build frequently unachievable standards for women. These lyrics normalize a concept we see so often in other forms of media today: women are sexually drawn to men who are aggressive and forceful about their desires. This enables men to feel as if forms of sexual harassment and sexual assault are just another kind of “advanced” flirtation.
Lastly, Pharrell sings, “Tried to domesticate you, but you’re an animal, baby it’s in your nature” – In the music video, Robert Thicke mouths Pharrell’s words into the ear of a black model. An insensitive shot in which the lyrics can be perceived in a racial context. Black women being considered anything but human has enabled centuries of medical malpractice in which Black women were used as test subjects to advance scientific understanding. The racial implications of this shot are undeniable; forceful power dynamics and dehumanization have assisted and continue to assist in the oppression of black women.
How Blurred Lines directs masculine objectives:
Along with the lyrics, It’s important to analyze who Pharrell’s intended audience is. While an artist will generally cater to the reasonably widest audience, it is clear that the message he pushes is meant for young men. This becomes apparent as he displays the social and sexual success of men who employ the technique of using and forcing themselves onto women.
On the top: T.I, a rapper most popular with young male audiences, flirts and dances with three separate women while the lyrics “I know you want it, I know you want it” play. The positioning of the shot is essential; T.I dances in front of the women, who appear to serve as his backup, dancing behind him. This shot reinforces the idea that women should be treated as props and helpers in a man’s life. The inappropriately flirtatious T.I also underlines that men who subscribe to aggression and assertion with women will be sexually hyper-successful.
On the Bottom: T.I, Pharrell and Robert Thicke are pictured together. All three of the men are in classy attire. The scene endorses the idea that forcing yourself onto women will not only bring you success with women, but will additionally give you status and respect among your friends. In contrasting their clothing, we see that the men, who are fully dressed, exude a message of strength and control, while women, dressed in only revealing clothing, are judged solely based on their body image and are a supporting entity to the man’s status.
Years later, Pharrell and Robert Thicke have admitted their embarrassment for their part in writing the song. Remorse is a step in the right direction, but the damage this song has caused and will continue to cause is evident. Younger generations that are broadly refused access to sex education in schooling often turn to forms of media for guidance. Messages like that of Blurred Lines subconsciously encourage the persistence of misogyny and rape culture in our society. The importance of the lesson we can learn from this is anything but blurry: the media we consume matters, our consumption has the possibility of enabling good and bad.
I’ve grown up watching my father do all the household chores. To many, this may be the ‘bare minimum,’ as it rightly is. However, patriarchy is so deep-rooted in Indian culture that such behavior is considered abnormal. Family members visiting our home would become physically uncomfortable watching my father cook, wash dishes, clean, and do the laundry, because that wasn’t ‘his job.’ In Indian society, men partaking in domestic chores is an alien concept.
This gender stereotype was challenged by an award-winning #ShareTheLoad initiative by an Indian laundry detergent company, Ariel, in 2015. The company launched this campaign through impactful advertisements, spotlighting the everyday, normalized gender inequality experienced in Indian households. They aimed to create “happier households where men and women Share The Load equally.”
In the advertisement, we see how a young child observes the polar opposite realities experienced by her parents. The daughter notices how her mother is never asleep next to her at night and is up late doing household chores. In the morning, her mother wakes up unrested, hastily tossing breakfast for her family. She returns home after a long day of work only to face the endless to-do list on her phone. Yet, her mother never lets her professional commitments come in the way of looking after her family. She’s seen tucking her daughter into bed, reading to her, and preparing materials for the next school day. In contrast, the daughter watches her dad get a good night’s sleep. He enjoys a relaxed morning, spending quality time with his daughter before heading to work. He seems carefree and unburdened. He is also oblivious to the amount of work his wife completes ‘behind the scenes’ at night to provide him with a comfortable lifestyle.
We can see the woman working- what Marxist feminist sociologists call- the triple shift. This refers to the idea that women in capitalist societies are expected to do paid and unpaid work and cater to their families’ emotional needs. Women are expected to juggle professional and familial responsibilities mechanically. Hence, the rise in the percentage of women employment in India is progressive only at face value. The reality is that there has been no change in the social expectations put on women. Women must work, be the best wives and mothers and conform to all social norms. Multi-tasking is glorified and regarded as a skill that ‘successful’ women have, prompting others to achieve this unrealistic standard.
In the advertisement, the daughter is the change initiator. When she notices her overworked mother, she wakes her father up and ushers him to the laundry room. The girl symbolizes the literal wake-up call that Ariel wanted to give India. The father is shocked to find his wife, completely exhausted, dozing off near the laundry machine in the middle of the night. He realizes how his lack of contribution affects his wife and makes an immediate change by taking over the laundry. The advertisement ends with a display of empirical evidence to support its argument. It draws a connection between the unequal division of household chores and women’s health, stating that 71% of women sleep less than men.
Apart from highlighting the unequal distribution of domestic work between men and women, the advertisement also emphasizes how children unconsciously pick up gender norms and roles. Children internalize gendered behaviors, roles, and activities by watching their parents. This advertisement was applauded for its ability to convey a meaningful message in a minimalistic way. It illustrated a scene that most Indians were familiar with and could relate to. It showed the Indian population that making a change doesn’t always entail grand gestures. One can change the status quo by something as simple as sharing the laundry with their partner.
However, the advertisement is far from perfect. In my opinion, the ads create a one-step forward, two-step back situation. The campaign fails to address the issue’s root- that household chores are not a woman’s job. The phrase ‘ShareTheLoad’ implies that household work is a woman’s job or ‘load’ to begin with and that men should ‘help’ them by ‘sharing’ the burden. It encourages the depiction of men as saviors who go out of their way to help the women in their families. Household work continues to be portrayed as a gender-specific role. The idea that domestic work is a life skill everyone should have regardless of gender is not translated through the screen.
Moreover, the campaign is very heteronormative. It does not do an excellent job of representing queer individuals and families. While the ad does a great job of exposing the inequalities faced by women in households, it continues to reinforce the idea that families can only consist of heterosexual couples. 2018 was a monumental year for LGBTQ+ rights in India. Article 377 of the Indian Penal code (which criminalized any form of queer sex) was struck down and deemed unconstitutional. However, removing the law did not manage to remove the social stigma around the LGBTQ community in India. The fear of representing queer relationships in mainstream media remains evident through the continuous display of heteronormativity.
Nevertheless, the campaign marked a significant first step towards encouraging companies to use their mainstream platforms to advocate for gender equality. I hope to see a more mainstream representation of the Queer community in India in the future!