From Theory to Praxis: Introduction of Mixed Gender Day Camp Groups at Summer Camp

During the past 12 summers I have attended YMCA Camp Minikani, first as a camper, then a counselor, and now as an administrator. With this new role in a leadership position, the responsibility of creating an environment for kids to learn and interact outside of normative constructions of the outside world is on my shoulders. Positive youth development in a camp setting is all about creating an environment of equality and respect for campers to pass on to people in their outside lives. Minikani actively works against destructive societal norms to promote originality and kindness towards others. As a leader of the organization, I aim to continue to work against constructions to promote individual and community wide respect. One way we can address this is through the reexamination of Minikani’s gender grouping.

For more than half of Minikani’s history, camp was extremely gender exclusive as only boys were allowed to come to camp. In 1967, the YMCA allowed for females to become campers, and soon after, counselors. Since then, however, there has been little change made regarding gender practices. The camp is currently set up with a day camp and an overnight camp, both of which separate groups into male and female groups. After taking this course, the necessity of demolishing the binary ideas of gender and sexuality became obvious. Anne Fausto-Sterling, along with other authors and theorists, has illuminated the history of assigning gender to bodies, the disconnection between ideas of binary genders and evidence of multiple genders, and the bias in the medical field with regards to sexing the body. These ideas make it clear gender is a construction, and limiting humanity to a binary viewpoint is limiting people’s ways of viewing themselves.

One of the YMCA’s core tenants includes the notion of diversity and inclusion. On their website, one can easily find this statement: “Together we work to ensure everyone—regardless of gender, income, faith, sexual orientation or cultural background—has the opportunity to live life to its fullest”. This is a goal that the YMCA at large, and Minikani in specific, have actively worked towards. Yet the continuation of binary gender divisions in camper groups has promoted an idea that is limiting to people’s constructions of themselves. Therefore, I am proposing a change starting in the day camp unit of Camp Minikani. We would, instead of organizing groups based on male or female and age, only organize groups based on age. This mixing of genders can help to teach cooperation and friendship with people who identify differently than you. More importantly, the lack of naming day camp groups in binary terms promotes inclusion and a non-limiting viewpoint on gender. Starting with the day camp groups in summer of 2017 can be a jumping off point and eventually lead to changes in the overnight camp unit to breakdown binary gender ideas as well. Even if no campers come to camp identifying outside of male or female, the breakdown of the binary system will lead to a respect and appreciation for mixed gender groups and a gender inclusive world.

Theory to Praxis: Training a Summer Camp Staff in South Alabama in a GSS Framework

During the summer, I work at an Episcopal summer camp in south Alabama in which the majority of both the staff and the campers come from predominantly white, conservative communities. Many members of the camp community attend private schools, which indicates a certain level of socioeconomic privilege, and about 60% of staff and campers identify as religious. All of this is coupled with regional customs and beliefs that tend toward overbearing patriarchy and heteronormativity. However, every year we are encountering more diverse staff and more diverse campers, some of which identify as LGBTQ. Therefore, many of our GSS 101 topics are relevant to the camp, but a majority of the staff are uninformed on issues of gender, sexuality, rape culture, and the intersections of these issues with race and disability. So, I would like to use the materials and research from GSS to develop policies and training for staff in order to foster an inclusive camp community.

I have noticed multiple situations in my years at camp that are worth addressing. The first, and possibly mostly difficult to overcome, is the physical infrastructure that reinforces the gender binary. For housing purposes, cabins are delineated strictly as “male” or “female.” However, in the last couple of years, we have had two campers who have identified as trans. This has been a tricky situation to navigate due to the lack of resources for gender-neutral housing and demonstrated transphobia, particularly on the part of male staff. At this time, there is no written policy concerning the housing of trans* identifying campers, and I think it would be worthwhile to establish such a policy, even if we are not in a position to be the most accommodating, so that parents and campers know that we are open to considering options that work for all campers.

The establishment of this strict binary reinforces heteronormative expectations based on a perceived obligation to spend time with and impress the opposite sex. For example, there are camp traditions such as adopting cabin “sweethearts” who are counselors of the opposite gender, or serenading cabins of the opposite gender. At times, fake marriages are staged between a male and female counselor. All of these promote heterosexual relationships without any regard for campers (or staff) who may not be interested in such thing. The language used by staff can also contribute to this idea by suggesting that the “norm” is interest in heterosexual relationships, such as a counselor asking a female camper “Is there a boy you like?”

To counteract potentially ostracizing language on the part of the staff, it is important to incorporate a workshop into the pre-existing week long staff training that in the most simple way possible addresses gender, sexuality, and their role at camp. However, it is also worth noting that a large number of the staff I have worked with have expressed blatant sexism, homophobia, and transphobia through the language they use around other staff members. Many come from strong religious and cultural backgrounds that have influenced their personal belief systems. Therefore, the most effective training would like not involve attempts to change individual’s ideologies; instead, the focus should be on establishing languages and practices that are designed to keep all campers safe, not just those who identify as cisgender and heterosexual.
Potentially, staff could do an assessment of their own implicit biases using online materials as a way to be aware of the biases that they bring to the camp setting. Since I have heard staff perpetuating widespread stereotypes about different groups, i.e. gay men, or lesbians, perhaps training could also include an activity in which the the staff engage with any stereotypes that they represent. This would give counselors the opportunity to become aware of how other people perceive them, and perhaps experience first hand the overgeneralization that accompany stereotypes so that they can work to counteract them at camp.

Finally, a very tangible area that could use both revised camp policy and staff instruction is camp dress code. As it stands, the camp recommendation is that all girls bring a one-piece swimsuit to camp, but when a girl does not, the expectation is that she will be asked to wear a t-shirt over her swimsuit, whether it is a tankini or a bikini. Male staff strongly support the enforcement of the policy and have used terminology such as “it protects them from boys” to justify their beliefs. This type of language reinforces rape culture, since the idea is that women who do not cover their bodies appropriately are at fault if men advance upon them. Instead, the policy and training of staff should reflect a level of accountability for all parties such that the objectification and potential victim-blaming of women is not tolerated. Particularly for younger campers who are are too young to understand why they might be asked to cover up when the heat index reaches 114 degrees, being asked to put on a t-shirt over a new swimsuit reinforces the shaming of female bodies as young as 7 years old.

Breaking down the gender binary, heteronormativity, and nascent rape culture would be very solid steps forward for the camp setting. I have no doubt that some of these ideas would be met with some degree of resistance by the staff, but in the long run, they would promote a healthier, more inclusive camp environment.

Queer Theory, Gender Theory

Book Review

Throughout Queer Theory, Gender Theory, Riki Wilchins explores topics such as LGBTQ rights movements, politics of meaning and self, identity politics, feminism, and race. Wilchins analyzes the many complex concepts in such a crafted way, always being careful to never segregate a specific subject. By doing this, she points out that all aspects of gender and queerness intertwine with not only each other, but other social constructions as well. For the entirety of the book, Wilchins encourages readers to step outside of their own identity box momentarily to explore and question what gender truly means, what queerness truly means, and what identity truly means.

Her first few chapters are a very good way for readers to ease into the intricacy of gender and queer theory, but by the end of the book she is challenging readers by asking the big questions. Why has society created such strict binaries, of which we must follow in order to create an identity that others can easily recognize as an identity? Why is it so hard for society to deconstruct these binaries, and is it even possible to do so? How does power work, even within certain rights movement groups, and why does it always tend to create a hierarchy? She uses a range of well-renounced theorists such as Michel Foucault and Judith Butler in order to support her arguments, but she recognizes that the big questions she herself is asking are far too complicated to possibly answer. However, the book was not written to answer the big questions, but rather adventure into and expose the complexity of theory.

Riki Wilchins has written two other books and several essays and articles. Queer Theory, Gender Theory was written in 2004 and is her most recent book. She is a post-operative transgender woman, meaning she has had sex reassignment surgery. This can be offered up as an explanation as to why she first began her career as a leader in the transgender rights movement. In 1995, Wilchins founded GenderPAC, which is the first national transgender advocacy group. Her group, active for 14 years, strived to make public places safe and comfortable for those who did not conform to the traditional roles and attributes of the gender binary. In her writing, she works to examine gender in a post-modernist theoretical light, hoping to bring some of that theory into politics and activism.

Wilchins’ first three chapters are all about rights: women’s rights, gay rights, and transgender rights. Right off the bat, she states, “queer theory is at heart about politics−things like power and identity, language, and difference” (Wilchins 5). Thus, this sets the tone for not only her first chapter on women’s rights, but for the several chapters to follow. She makes references to the black civil rights movements and how it has been a big part of the foundation of the LGBTQ rights movements we see today. “For it is in the black civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s that the familiar tools of modern civil rights movements…all come together for the first time” (5). This emphasizes the intersectional lens that Wilchins uses throughout the book to view gender concepts and constructs. She goes on to point out that although at times feminists can seem quite progressive, they often leave out groups of people, thus arguing that even those fighting for equality can get caught up in the power of the all imposing gender binary.

Wilchins then dives into the politics of meaning, which is what she titles chapter 4. She uses the philosopher Jacques Derrida and builds off of his ideology to come to the conclusion that “gender is a language, a system of meanings and symbols, along with the rules, privileges, and punishments pertaining to their use−for power and sexuality…” (35). Wilchins points out that language is flawed in the sense that it can only get us so far. There are certain things we can talk about with language and certain things we simply cannot, for “language favor the Same” (35). So, when people blur the lines of the gender binary, it’s difficult for us to talk about it as a society because language does not allow us that privilege. For example, a trans woman is often not seen as a “real” woman, but rather someone just trying to mimic a woman. Yet, as Wilchins later points out, how do we define a “real” woman? Furthermore, why do these categories of two genders seem to be so exclusive?

This leads Wilchins to dive into Foucault and his theories surrounding power. The authoritarian, end-all-be-all attitude of science often prevents us from obtaining true knowledge. “…the new Science was not interested in knowledge about Sex, but rather power over it” (53.) The discourse that our society has created around gender only allows us to make sense of two certain types of bodies (male and female), which often times makes people who push the binaries of “objects of discourse, not participants in it” (61). Wilchins speaks to repressive and discursive power, and their effects on our perspectives of queerness and what it means to be queer. Which further prompts Wilchins to question our perspectives on sex, something we have often thought of as set in stone and unchangeable. However, intersex people often fall into a very blurry category of sex, one of which our society does not know how to conceptualize, which has in turn led to doctors performing procedures on intersex babies at birth to give them a “real” sex.

Wilchins ties the binaries of race into the binaries of sex. Society has placed significant meaning on what it means to be white and black in this country, just as it has placed significant meaning on what it means to be a man and a woman in this country. “…a central problem for gender theory has been that no matter what telling points are made about gender, Sex lurks right behind, pulling everything right back in the direction of immutable biology” (84). It seems to be that one can just not deconstruct sex. It is an irrefutable Truth. However, Wilchins points out that if this was the case, then we wouldn’t have to teach children what their sex is. If sex were actually an irrefutable Truth, children would just know this about themselves. Wilchins argues that perhaps sex is just another way for society and science to apply cultural meaning to differences that may not be as different as we presume.

The last quarter of the book is quite dense. Wilchins explores post-modernism, its effects on queer theory, and the critiques of it as well. She then explores the deconstruction of race, and how it is much less widely acceptable to deconstruct race than it is to deconstruct gender. Wilchins describes that perhaps race is a “matter of identification created by shared experience and cultural memory” (111). She continues to intertwine race and gender by writing about gendering race and racing gender, stating that the two cannot be separated and by talking about one, you must always talk about the other. Then Wilchins introduces Butler and the problem of identity. The categories of man and women are troubling to both Wilchins and Butler, for “assuming commonality to any identity…can mean assuming a unity that doesn’t exist in reality” (124). So, perhaps Wilchins did answer one of her big questions. Women as a category and identity is something our society has created and bound to us, when in fact, being a woman is far too nuanced to condense into one group.

Throughout Queer Theory, Gender Theory, Wilchins carefully writes about and constructs extremely perplexing and layered topics. The single greatest strength of this book is the way intersectionality continues to come up again and again. It is never neglected, and Wilchins always acknowledges that these concepts must be viewed with several different lenses, in order to fully grasp the complexity of them. The way she writes about race and gender in conversation with each other is necessary for a book like this, but nevertheless still extremely intricately difficult. Wilchins makes sure to never let the reader forget that in order to try and deconstruct gender, one must look at nearly all aspects of our society. She gracefully points out to us that even spaces in which we may think of as un-gendered, actually still are gendered, for it is hard to escape the gender binary society has created. However, as prevalent as intersectionality is throughout this book, at times it was difficult to fully follow. I found myself questioning whom this book was directed towards, and if it was directed towards an audience of which does not identify as LGBTQ, then perhaps it could have been too dense for them. The book is a relatively quick read, however if one has not done previous research on queer theory, then Wilchins’ probably would not be a good introduction to it.

As a Gender & Sexuality Studies major, I very much enjoyed reading this book. It was written concisely and included several real life examples, which sometimes theory fails to do. The book was relatable for me, as I’m sure it was for many others. Wilchins included several philosophers and theorists throughout the book and framed them in a way that was easy to understand and apply to her argument. I believe it would be a great read for others studying queer theory, however as mentioned before, perhaps too dense for someone just introducing themselves to the topic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Wilchins, Riki Anne. Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer. Los Angeles:

Alyson, 2004. Print.

The Gender Binary in Relation to Dance

The music video Sergei Polunin in “Take Me to Church” by Hozier is able to reveal assumptions commonly held in dance around gender.

The camera work is steady. The video starts with a shot of the ceiling and then descends down to Sergei Polunin. For most of the video the camera is a short ways away, however, it’s focus is on him intermittently adding to the intensity of emotion in certain moments. For some shots the camera is close up and filming from almost beneath Sergei Polunin, this interesting style adds a dimension into how he is presented.

The white wooden church like structure Sergei Polunin is dancing in is expansive. The space is simple, there is a loft in a small portion of the second story but beyond that the space is open. The walls are incomplete, the frames showing, and the windows appear to be large holes in the walls. The floor is solid stone tiles of a light gray color, slightly dirty. The light beaming in is bright and glows in white fog that is rolling over the floor.

Sergei Polunin is dressed plainly in tight skin tone shorts and dirtied ballet shoes. He is wearing less than is generally worn for classical ballet. Additionally he is showing a multitude of tattoos. The tattoos are bold and dark on his stomach and sides. Sergei Polunin also has tattoos on his arms, wrist, hand, foot and chest. His hair is dark strait and growing out to be a little shaggy.

The song Sergei Polunin is dancing to, “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, has deep emotionality and is a great coupling with Sergei Polunin’s style of dance. Within the song there is variation of intensity that compliments the burst of action in the choreography.  

There is a dichotomy between his fully controlled spins and the moments where Sergei Polunin holds his head, his body seeming to break down. Sergei Polunin demonstrates an opposition and union of movement, one example of this is his ability to collapse all the way to the floor with grace. His movements are decisive and even as he is incorporating modern dance into ballet there is still form and structure to his movements. The motion of Sergei Polunin starts slow, tensioned and then unfurls into ballet spins and flashier choreography. Always returning back to ballet dance he is able to add emotionally charged moments that are almost theatrical in nature. There is an emotionality in his moves, particularly when there is a softer moment in the music.

In ballet there are many contrasts between classic female form and classic male form. The way Sergei Polunin holds his head is loose. He begins the piece with his hands on his hair bending his head down. His head is lifted but not tensioned. The way his head moves adds to the burst of motion he has and the emotionality. This contrasts greatly with the way female ballet dancers hold their heads which are generally very poised and tilted slightly up at the chin. The feminine head position is held with grace and firm ease.

The hands are important in ballet. In feminine form they are held softy with the second finger extended out just slightly. They remain smooth, slow changing and delicate. However in male classical ballet the hands are interrupted from delicacy often by lifting a women or focusing on quick burst of muscularity. Sergei Polunin has some form to his fingers during specific ballet moves but he also has flat hands for catching himself on the ground and curled finger pushing through his hair. He also at one point makes a fists with his hands which is something not often done by classically trained female ballerinas.  

The way Sergei Polunin expands his limbs through the space is mostly in quick fast points of movement where he is expanding and contracting often. There is a focus on concentrated muscular feats. He has a looseness of his limbs as certain points. Feminine classical ballet is different, the movements are generally supposed to be slow deliberate extensions that show off flexibility and endurance. The motion through space is graceful and full of very structured form.

Sergei Polunin’s movements come in explosive bursts, the focus on agility and strength. The motions are an embodiment of masculinity, protruding, angular and quick. This assertive action can easily tie into gender stereotypes in general and the conception that our contemporary society still holds about gender. In the gender binary men are noted for strength, assertive attitudes and loud demeanors. Differing from this, women are noted for grace, delicacy and consideration. Women have been expected to uphold this smooth action and water-like nature. Considering the role society has placed on women it is no surprise that femininity in dance is associated with smooth graceful movements. There is an emphasis on posture, detail, fluidity and rounding of the body.

Sergei Polunin’s movements, to “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, uncovers some of the gender bias and associations that are so deeply ingrained in our society, that are reflected in the form, movement and posture of dance.

Moppa, Interrupted

 

The lives and experiences of trans* people are rapidly becoming more commonplace in conversations in mainstream media. I Am Cait, Orange is the New Black, and Katie Couric’s interview of Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera on Good Morning America (however problematic) are evidence that television is becoming more representative of cultural diversity in terms of race, sexuality and, more recently, gender. Jill Soloway’s critically acclaimed Amazon original series, Transparent, has gained traction and interest beyond the trans* community for its raw, honest portrayal of the confusion experienced by a family accepting that its patriarch has come out as transgender. The Pfefferman family does not take the announcement in stride, but battles grief and denial with regards to the loss of its father figure in order to make way for another mother. The show broaches the question of whether a series so uniquely diverse in its field ought to assume an educator’s role for its viewers. The show-runners faced the dilemma of whether or not to accept the didactic responsibility of representing the underrepresented. Does a series about topics newly introduced to public conversation have the luxury of serving their audiences’ basic need for entertainment? As evidenced by the second episode of season two, Transparent says yes. The series serves to entertain its audience with education, but is not a visual textbook. Ultimately, Transparent is not didactic and maintains the right to ambiguity.

screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-9-03-11-pm

Discussions of identifying beyond the traditional gender binary necessitate the destruction of the perceived notion of “realness” or legitimacy associated with being a man or a woman. Thus, the International Bill of Gender Rights as adopted in 1995 asserted each individual’s right to define or change his or her own gender. According to Riki Wilchins in Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer, there is a “fascism of meaning” behind the association with certain physical or personality traits with femininity or masculinity; it is “an assault of meaning that forces people to live as gendered impossibilities” (38). Maura Pfefferman, known affectionately as “Moppa” (an amalgamation of “mom” and “poppa”) by her children, is depicted in the arc of each episode of Transparent as attempting to liberate herself from those “gendered impossibilities.” By the second season, she has succeeded, to a vast degree, by identifying as a woman to her family and to strangers. She proudly presents and lives as female.

screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-8-42-14-pmIn episode 202, “Flicky-Flicky Thump-Thump,” Maura is forced to confront the emotional implications her ability to fulfill her sense of self has on her interpersonal relationships while engaging in digital penetration with her friend and ex-wife, Shelly. The scene is set in the bathroom of Shelly’s retirement condo, where the two once again live together. Shelly relaxes in the bathtub while Maura scrutinizes her image in the mirror, wearing a black bathing suit with synthetic breasts. Their conversation derails from Maura’s body image to a reflection on their previous life as husband and wife. While Shelly is enthusiastic to reflect on their sexual experiences together, Maura resists. Her expression shifts from the frown of a perfectionist, searching for physical flaws to one marred by pain and resentment. Even as she engages Shelly, Maura is emotionally disengaged from the experience. She glowers down at Shelly, ignorant to this in her ecstasy. While Maura can dress, walk, dine, and sleep as a woman, Shelly displays one pleasure Maura cannot know. Shelly, as per usual, is oblivious to her ignorance of Maura’s emotional needs. Afterward, Maura shakes off her feelings by wrapping herself in a kimono, checking her hair and replying to Shelly’s offers of reciprocation with a curt, “I’m good.” The sumptuous nature of the kimono’s material, for Maura, must patch the divide between giving and receiving pleasure and emotional fulfillment.

screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-8-42-52-pm

Despite the groundbreaking nature of a sex scene between two older women, one of whom has a penis, the continuously muddied waters of the relationship between Maura and Shelly are the focus of the scene rather than the mechanics of their sex. In an article for The New York Times Magazine, Emily Bobrow describes the Pfeffermans as a “loving family in which everyone seems uncomfortable in their skin.” Her observation, while not subversive, is true. The Pfeffermans’ discomfort with their evolving family dynamic is at the heart of the series’ intrigue. Thus, in order to propel a dynamic and engaging plot, Maura’s discomfort, physical and emotional, cannot be shied away from. The silent tension at the conclusion of the pivotal scene in “Flicky-Flicky Thump-Thump” exists solely because the writers chose to reject conversation of Maura’s genitals. The richness and depth of the tension, both emotional and sexual, stems from the decades of imbalance in Maura and Shelly’s former marriage. Maura’s actions are indicative of her weariness of giving all of herself to Shelly’s demands without the emotional reciprocation or attention she deserves. The episode’s power lies in its illustration of Maura’s life as complicated because of the typical strain of interpersonal relationships, not because of her transition.

However, that the scene includes Maura’s hesitance to fully engage sexually with Shelly rather than allowing Shelly to reciprocate confronts some feminists’ argument to exclude trans-women. Trans-exclusionary radical feminists’ essentialist notion of womanhood excludes trans-women because of their genitals. While the voices of these feminists may not be the majority, their opinions are relevant in the modern conversation of trans* experiences’ place in a culture only beginning to accept that life exists beyond the gender binary. Michelle Goldberg encapsulates this in her article “What is a Woman?” for The New Yorker, when she addresses the seemingly anachronistic perspective of these women, “at a time when transgender rights are ascendant, radical feminists insist on regarding transgender women as men, who should not be allowed to use women’s facilities, such as public rest rooms, or to participate in events organized exclusively for women.” Thus, addressing what would have happened if Maura had decided to stay in the bathroom with Shelly becomes relevant. According to trans-exclusionary radical feminists, Maura is not a woman at all. However, her womanhood is the driving force for the inception of the series’ intrigue.

The writers ignore all of this. In the context of the greater conversation between the show-runners and the audience, the focus on the emotional side of Maura’s transition rather than the physical aspect is representative of their choice not to fully engage in questions of gender politics. The position is a strange one to take by those at the helm of a show with content that can be so easily politicized. The episode effectively introduces the audience to conversations of what Leila Rupp calls “different-status sex” in Toward a Global History of Same-Sex Sexuality in order to address the correlation between transgressions of gender norms and transgressions of the norms of sexuality. However, the show is simply that, it is entertainment. The intrigue of “Flicky-Flicky Thump-Thump” signifies Transparent’s acceptance of the right to function as entertainment as any other series with less subversive subject matter. Ultimately, Transparent exists to expand perception of trans* lives, not educate on trans* bodies.

screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-8-44-00-pm

Works Cited

Bobrow, Emily. “How Two Producers of ‘Transparent’ Made Their Own Trans Lives More Visible.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Sept. 2016. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.

Goldberg, Michelle. “What Is a Woman?” The New Yorker. Condé Nast, 28 July 2014. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.

Rupp, Leila J. “Toward a Global History of Same-Sex Sexuality.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.2 (2001): 287-302. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.

Wilchins, Riki Anne. Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer. Los Angeles: Alyson, 2004. Print.

 

 

Fighting Against Conformity

In the TV show, Orange is the New Black Carrie Black also known as “Boo” is an inmate at Litchfield women’s prison. Her character can be described as outspoken because she is never afraid to say what she feels or to be the way she is. In the episode “Finger in the Dyke” there is a lot that is learned about Boo. The title implies the episode will focus on the sexuality and the way Boo identifies. It is a very graphic name, but it relates to the way the character behaves because those two aspects of her are very important in the way she presents herself in the show; Boo is a very complex character and she depicts one of the many sexual and gender identities that exist. She describes herself as a Butch Lesbian. She has the word Butch tattooed on her arm and she feels it is a really big part of her identity and something she has had to fight for. This show has a lot of underlying messages in general about issues dealing with gender and sexuality, but the scene I wanted to focus on was on season 3 episode 4. It is a scene where Carrie Black “Boo” is young and her mother wants her to wear a dress, but she refuses to wear it. The scene starts off with a very unhappy looking teenage Boo wearing a dress. Her mother in the background seems hopeful that her daughter will finally listen to her and stop dressing in ways that make her stand out. The mother then goes on to say that she shouldn’t try and go against the expectations of society because that would bring the wrong kind of attention. What this suggests about society is that there is a set of structures dictating the behaviors and characteristics of each of the sexes, and to stray away from the expectations set will only result in judgment and ostracism. In society, there is a clear gender binary that has dictated the way males and females have to look like and behave like. The mother then walks away angrily as the father comes in to help her “deal” with the situation and try to convince Boo to wear the dress. The father takes a different approach to “dealing with” Carrie’s opposition to wearing the dress. There are a couple of things he says that help with understanding the way people view those who fall outside the gender norms. He pleads Carrie to just wear the dress to make her mother happy. What can be interpreted from this is how conformity plays a role in society. In the scene, the imagery is very strong because it shows just how intense it can be to not conform. You have the mother who is getting really upset and calling her daughter a bitch because she doesn’t want to fit into the mold that her mother is trying to force her into. Boo is very visibly upset, and she also refuses to give in right away. People conform to the gender norms they don’t always identify with because they want to stay in the boundaries set by society in order to keep everyone happy and prevent conflicts. The father then goes to talk about her teenage hormones. What he is implying from this is he thinks what she is going through is a phase because of her hormones as a teenager. He is being dismissive of the way she feels. Boo expresses this to him because she brings up how she thinks it is not a good enough reason to change the way she is in order to make other people happy.

This is something people who fall outside of the “traditional gender norms” have to deal with. Overall, the scene tries to argue how there are pre-set gender norms that people are expected to fit into. Society has built this idea of what a young girl is supposed to look like, and if the person does not fit the mold, like wearing a dress on picture day, then there is a lot of judgment directed at her. In the reading “Female Masculinity” by Judith Halberstam she talks about being a tomboy; in society being a tomboy comes with difficulties because it is seen as a phase and once the girl goes on to her pubescent stage, then the pressure to conform to the rules of femininity are forced upon her by the people in society and, like in Boo’s case, her parents.  The scene is especially powerful because it brings to the forefront the way family can be at the center of trying to push people into conforming to what society wants. One one hand it is because of the concern that they will be judged by others, but it is also on some level because they also believe it is the way things should be.

The intention of the clip is to show the oppressive nature of gender conformity. The scene focuses on how there is an expectation for young girls to be complacent and to behave in a certain way. They have to wear dresses and have to not want to stand out. The mother mentions how there is a bad kind of attention that Boo is trying to get is not the “good kind.” She brings up the way other kids will make fun of her and that plays into the role of how people are forced to conform because of the way other people will treat them. A lot of what happened in the scene was touched upon in the documentary “Three to Infinity: Beyond Two Genders.” There is this idea that forces people into these two binary roles in society when in fact peoples’ likes and dislikes can go beyond that. People will identify differently and that makes people uncomfortable because it is something they do not see often because there are so many social constructs around who people have to be according to the standards set by society. Anyone who doesn’t meet the criteria for what it means to be feminine or what it is to be masculine is looked at weird because people don’t know how to categorize them. Boo is “Butch” and this identity takes on different characteristics and intersects masculine and feminine traits. The intersection defies the binary spectrum which is something people are not used to seeing, therefore leading to judgments against her. It is an effective in portraying the struggles of gender conformity because it shows the strain on relationships and the anguish of the teens trying to push against the behavioral expectations of their gender.

The target audience would be the younger generation. The show does have a lot of younger women as the main characters, but it is still graphic enough to not have the target audience be young teenagers. This affects how the show is written because it can be more explicit with the way it tries to explain things as well as it can focus on a variety of issues that women have to face. This is important because the show does expose the viewers to stories they may have never thought about before. The show does go beyond the plot of piper chapman in order to increase awareness into the lives of the other women in the prison. The episode. in particular, is trying to make people understand that there are a lot of limits to the traditional binary roles and that there are people who identify outside of them. People have to fight all of their lives to justify who they are if they do not fall into one of the two categories designated by society, and they have to put up with judgments constantly while trying to defend who they are. It is necessary to expand the spectrum of identification and move away from the binary in order to understand gender identity and expression, as well as sexuality, come in various forms.

 

Works Cited

“Finger in the Dyke.” Orange is the New Black. Netflix. 12 June 2015. Web.

Halberstam, Judith. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke UP, 1998. Print.

Pretty in Pink? A Media Analysis of a “Progressive” Toy

 

Pretty in Pink? Media Analysis of a “Progressive” Toy

Gender as a concept is a systemic structure that begins affecting children at a young age. The manipulation of gender and sex starts with advertisements for items such as toys, clothes, and furniture that mold the way children see themselves as soon as they are old enough to register what they see and hear on television and in print. Mass media and industry pushes the binary as a way to sell more items and this process requires children to pick a side: either the feminine side, where the toys are centered on appearance and homemaking, or the masculine, where the toys are more aggressive and active. The push towards a more inclusive toy industry is warped, and is seen through a recent advertisement for a toy called GoldieBlox. GoldieBlox is a set of building blocks and is focused on attracting a young, female audience. The commercial seems to reject the pink, princess-centric world of girls’ toys for a more scientific, active toy. What this commercial does not address, however, is the reinforcement that there are two types of girls: one that enjoys the norm and one that does not fit what we traditionally perceive as a girl’s toy. When the girl does not fit the norm, she is automatically placed in the other category, in which it is imperative that she maintains her femininity even though she rejects the traditional set of toys. In this way, the toy industry’s push to design more “inclusive” toys still remain solidly in the gender binary.

This GoldieBlox commercial, aptly named “The Princess Machine” begins by showing three girls sitting in front of the television, bored by the advertisement for a girly toy. The commercial proceeds when the girls don safety goggles and decide to construct an elaborate machine from their girly toys, such as baby carriages and tea sets. The girls work together to create a series of pulleys, levers, and ramps that extend throughout their whole house, creating a domino effect that moves a ball along the trail of toys. The girls run alongside the ball as it travels from room to room, eagerly awaiting the finale. The advertisement shows them enjoying their final product, which changes the television channel that originally showed the feminine toy commercial to an advertisement for this specific toy. The girls then cheer and celebrate their invention.

This advertisement is expertly crafted in order to appear to be advocating change in how toys are marketed to children, but only breaks down the feminine stereotype enough that it is comfortably available to the mainstream. An example of how it remains entwined in the binary is the toy’s pink packaging, showing a smiling blond girl on the box, plays directly into preconceived and accepted notions of what young girls should look like and how they should spend their time. This toy is no more evolutionary than a Barbie, and is a exemplary instance of Judith Halberstam’s argument in An Introduction to Female Masculinity that, “tomboyism may even be encouraged to the extent that it remains comfortably linked to a stable sense of a girl identity” (6). Girls are allowed to express themselves through traditionally masculine toys only until they hit puberty, when they are expected to become feminine, docile, and disinterested in masculine pursuits. Another interesting aspect of this commercial is its name: The Princess Machine. The name is not mentioned anywhere in the video, but can be found by searching it by name. The naming of this commercial is crucial to the argument that social norms can only be pushed so far, and not broken, as to create discomfort for the audience. The title of this commercial asserts that, although these girls do not want to be princesses, they can still create something feminine and acceptable to the gender binary. Notable, as well, is the race of the girl on the packaging. The use of a blond girl, though cartoon, asserts the argument that this toy is focused on maintaining what the media sells as acceptable for girls to be: white, “pretty”, and feminine. Not only is this toy selling the binary, its selling what society is groomed to think of as beautiful. The commercial, much like it does to the binary, pushes the idea of inclusivity just barely, by including one Caucasian and two girls of colors in it. The packaging tells the consumer that this is the ideal and is the first part of the toy little girls will see, which is no different than any other of the white centric, mainstream advertisements see across all industries. All these aspects of the commercial and packaging are, in a not so subtle way, asserting society’s views that being white, blond, and cis-gender is the ideal identity of a child.

The binary further asserts itself in the sub context of this commercial, narrowing the entire female gender to one of two categories: those who enjoy baby dolls and tea sets, and another, which rejects these items. The commercial seems to, at first glance, break down the stigma that girls enjoy playing solely with baby dolls and tea sets, but the makers have only given females one other option. By discussing femininity by only giving an alternative, this commercial’s message is very similar to the mainstream, exclusive message of the gender binary. This message is reminiscent of Wilchins’ Queer Theory, Gender Theory and her idea that, “Woman could do anything men could do and still retain their femininity” (8). Wilchins is discussing how, instead of completely breaking down and eradicating gender norms, it is popular now to offer an alternative to the “girly girl” while still remaining what is commonly thought of as feminine and therefore comfortable for the general population. Wilchins’ assertion is related to an image seen at the end of the commercial, with the three girls standing shoulder to shoulder, arms crossed, wearing their construction belts and safety goggles. Although this would be considered a common frame if it were little boys, the girls have to remain feminine by wearing girly clothes as to not disrupt the binary. Another pertinent topic discussed by Wilchins is the idea of gender expression, which she defines as, “the manifestation of an individual’s fundamental sense of being masculine or feminine through clothing, behavior, grooming, etc.” As long as the toy user’s gender expression is one that has been seen before and accepted by society, she is allowed to freely enjoy her blocks or dolls. If she were to start acting like or identifying as more masculine, Wilchins says, “[people] will probably be shocked, disgusted, or at least turned off” (9). GoldieBlox is an excellent example of the cunningness of advertisers, who play to their consumer to sell more products.

GoldieBlox is a toy marketed towards an apparent shift in commercial industry towards a more inclusive, neutral business. When analyzed, however, GoldieBlox and its corresponding advertisement do nothing to break down stereotypes and expectations placed on children and the activities they enjoy doing. The resulting advertisement is a misrepresentation of what is it to be a girl with interests that do not include traditional girly toys and fails to acknowledge that feminine ideals are ever present and still being embedded in the minds of the girls watching these commercials.

Works Cited

GoldieBlox & Rube Goldberg. YouTube. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Aug.

  1. < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIGyVa5Xftw>.

Halberstam, Judith. “An Introduction to Female Masculinity.”

Introduction. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke UP, 1998. N.

pag. Print.

Wilchins, Riki Anne. Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant

Primer. Los Angeles: Alyson, 2004. Print.