Book Review: The Tragedy of Heterosexuality

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.

Book Report: The Tragedy of Heterosexuality

The Tragedy of Heterosexuality

“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. 

Works Cited

Ward, Jane. “Jane Ward: Scholarship for the Feminist Future.” Jane Ward, https://www.janewardphd.com/

Ward, Jane. The Tragedy of Heterosexuality. New York University Press, 2020.

Onnagata: An Assessment of Female-likeness within Kabuki Theater

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, for 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, 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. 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.

Bibliography  

Mezur, K. (2005). Beautiful Boys/Outlaw Bodies: Devising Kabuki Female-likeness. Palgrave Macmillan. 

Testimonies from Transgender Youth: A Book Review of The Trans Generation

Every year, transgender youth in North America become increasingly prevelent, and yet Canadian and United States societies continue to fail them with a lack of safety, support and protection. Not one institution can be blamed for the oppression of trans kids; many systems in North America, often intentionally, work to promote and enforce harmful gender norms. Even more so now in The United States, anti-trans bills are being introduced across the nation. This transphobia perpetuated in North America has caused transgender youth to be disproportionally affected by mental illnesses, drug abuse and violence. While the situation seems hopeless, trans activists and scholars in the country have long been fighting for a better future. One, Ann Travers, aimed to do so with their book, The Trans Generation. 

In the scholarly monograph, published in 2018, Travers documents the negative effects of growing up transgender in North America through personal accounts of transgender youth and their parents. While the children interviewed are mostly coming from supportive families, governments, school administrations and other systems that uphold the gender binary often prevent transgender kids from having complete and fufilling childhoods. Travers notes, “It would clearly be beneficial to all children if gender were not used to organize kids at school” (147). Travers argues that without that rigid gender binary imposing on the lives of children, young kids of all genders would be more freely able to express their identities. Travers quotes geographer  Kath Browne to echo their own statement, saying “Gendered spaces are disabling environments; it is the normative constructions of sex that are both built into, and interact in, everyday spaces that reproduce the ‘abnormal’” (79). Additionally, Travers makes a strong effort to decenter their whiteness and draw attention to the inequalities within the trans community due to differences in race, class, sexuality, etc. As Travers questions what can be done to improve the conditions for transgender children in North America, they discuss how any efforts made to protect these children would only affect the most privileged few. Travers quotes political scientist Kimberley Manning in saying, “Publicly tackling transphobia is only possible for those who can afford the costs of time, labor, finances, and risk” (128). This statement especially highlights the need to keep underprivileged children at the forefront of the fight to end trans opression. Only some kids can afford to transition, switch schools, connect with other trans people, etc., though all of these opportunities are crucial to a child’s physical and mental wellbeing. Systems upholding racial and class opression would need to be dismantled before these opportunities could be made available to everyone, however Travers believes decentralizing the gender binary is the first step to reducing the precarity of trans kids.

Ann Travers devoted 5 years to learning from 36 transgender kids aged 4-20 about their experiences, working to find children of various identities, races, classes and family structures. Despite being a non-binary person themself, Travers commented on how “transformative” this experience was for them, especially in their lack of using the words ‘gender assigned at birth’; they state, “In writing this way, I have endeavored to model a much more open and less biologically deterministic way of enabling and respecting each person’s right to determine their own gender” (8). Their desire for writing this book was to improve the quality of life for both transgender children and cisgender children alike. 

The book itself covers topics ranging from parental support to bathroom usage to healthcare to sports teams, all exemplifying that most areas of life for transgender children are frequently interrupted because of their identities. In the case of education, children often must switch schools or leave school entirely because of the oppressive environment they are in. As Travers states, “Gender policing and harrassment affect mental health, school attendance and achievement” (67). The harassment children face from peers, teachers and parents is not only detrimental for trans kids’ physical and mental health, but causes them to miss out on acedemic opportunities as well. A lack of access, safety or inclusion in public spaces such as restrooms also contributes to physical and mental health risks for kids of all ages. Travers explains how several young children in their study would wet themselves before using a public restroom. Since some schools prohibit transgender students from using their desired bathroom, the discomfort surrounding public gendered spaces is often heightened there. A GLSEN report included in the monograph documents that “60% of students had been restricted to using a bathroom or change room according to their legal sex” (50). Trans oppression from school administrations does not stop at bathroom usage, many schools prevented children from using their desired name or pronouns and in extreme cases suspended or expelled children who wanted to transition while attending school. Even for schools that do support transgender children, there are still barriers due to two-sex systems, especially in sports. Many subjects of Travers’s study talk of needing to leave a sport they are passionate about because they either cannot play on their preferred team or they face harrassment from team members, coaches and parents, among other reasons. Travers states broadly, “For trans people of all ages, the sex segregation of sport is a key obstacle to participation” (95). The statements from the subjects and their parents as well speak volumes to the interruptions of “normal” childhood life. 

I found the testimonies from this book particularly enlightening as they spoke to the way young children experience gender. The usage of personal voice from these young kids highlights the self-awareness and understanding one gains from questioning and discovering their identity. With their clear and open definitions of the gender spectrum, they are truly paving the way for a more less sex-segregated future. One child, as Travers quotes, “Believes that children and young people should be able to ‘try stuff out, find what fits for them’” (31). He articulates clearly the fluidity of gender and children’s right to self-determination. Travers describes another kid as well, starting,  “Stef resists both a binary-based trans narrative of permanence and the kind of criticism of that narrative that legitimates trans-opressive refusals to acknowledge the ‘realness’ of trans kids’ gender identities” (30). These personal accounts educate readers on both the transphobia children endure as well as validate gender as a speectrum. All people, transgender or cisgender, young and old, can learn from this new generation of children. 

While this monograph succeeds in addressing the severity of trans kids’ mental health issues, some of the descriptions of self-harm and suicide are in need of content warnings. Of course, trans children are disporpotionally at risk, but the explicit and somewhat graphic detail used is not necessary. The main instance of this is in a description of a young boy named Finn who took his life. While the language used came from his mother’s announcement in an online parent group and was only quoted by Travers, their discussion of the death was disturbing. Again, suicide is an uncomfortable and disturbing topic to begin with, but also a significant aspect of trans opression. Travers explains that they see Finn as a “casualty” of this opression due to his feelings of “hopelessness about the future” and the “limited agency available to him” (35). This description does help readers understand the state of despair of trans children, but I don’t believe this serious of an issue can be brought up so honestly in this way.

Overall, I thought this book was incredibly informative and well constructed considering the difficult subject matter. Not only did Travers broaden my understanding of trans life in North America, they ended the book in such a thoughtful conclusion of the nuances within the trans community given intersecting identities. I would be curious to know how the history of trans youth has expanded since 2018; much has changed in the past 4 years and I wonder what effect the pandemic especially has had on trans youth. Besides the outrageous amount of anti-trans bills proposed in 2021, I do wonder if conditions in schools have improved for trans children with the growing impact social media has on society. While the contents of the monograph are deeply saddening, this book is a must read for anyone wanting to learn from children affected by trans opression. 

Travers, Ann. The Trans Generation. New York University Press. New York. 2018.

Improving Straight Culture: A Review of The Tragedy of Heterosexuality

“Men want women and also hate women” (Ward 28). In American culture, misogyny, strict gender roles, and the normalization of heterosexuality are elements that have become so ingrained in our society that people rarely question them. We teach young girls that their purpose in life is to find a husband and live happily ever after and young boys that their identity must be found in rigid masculinity, all while creating a society where the patriarchy is rampant and controlling. While the violence, hatred, and shame of heterosexual culture have been normalized in our society for hundreds of years, feminists and scholars of gender and sexuality studies are beginning to unpack the framework of heterosexual culture and take a critical view of the issues that historically, few have addressed. 

One such author is Jane Ward, who addresses misogyny and the patriarchy, as well as race, gender, and queerness in her 2020 book, The Tragedy of Heterosexuality. Ward, a professor of Feminist studies at the University of California Santa Barbara, is an author and scholar. Originally receiving her PhD in sociology from the University of California Santa Barbara, Ward now focuses her studies on queer and feminist cultures, including heterosexuality, race, and trans cultures. Prior to writing The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, Ward wrote and published two other books, Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men (2015) and Respectably Queer: Diversity Culture in LGBT Activist Organization (2008) (Ward). As a queer woman, Ward takes a critical approach to both heterosexual culture, patriarchy, and white queer culture in her works. 

In The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, Ward examines the history of heterosexuality within the United States through a queer feminist lens. She analyzes primary elements of straight culture, such as what she refers to as the “heterosexual repair industry”, and looks towards queer lesbian culture to claim that as a society, men should improve their treatment of and their actual desire for women and women should heighten their standards for the men in their lives. Ward also argues that while people often treat heterosexuality as the “default” and the “easiest” option in society, it is actually not the case. She writes, “This book argues that the basic premise of this question–that heterosexuality is easier than queerness–requires renewed investigation” (Ward 2). Though heterosexuality may be seen as the “default” in society, Ward claims that heterosexual culture requires significant improvements, and envisions a better, more authentic, and more desirable future for heterosexuals. 

In the opening chapter of The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, Ward clarifies her intentions for the book. First, she is not fighting against heterosexuality itself, but simply envisioning a better future for heterosexuality. She even uses language that straight people often use towards queer people, writing “To the straight people reading this book, let me say with all my love and solidarity, I am your ally” (Ward 7). Second, Ward aims to take an intersectional approach to the topics of straight and queer cultures. She acknowledges that queer culture is often represented from a privileged white point of view, and wants to recognize and honor the intersections of race, as well as class and ability, in her critique of straight culture. To do so, she writes, “I have leaned heavily on the writings of queer feminists of color and placed their insights at the forefront of my analysis” (Ward 7). Lastly, Ward uses multiple forms of evidence throughout the book, such as citing interviews and writings with other scholars in her field, looking towards cultural and media evidence, and even conducting her own small forms of research among the queer people in her community. It is through this methodology and philosophy that Ward forms her critiques of heterosexual culture. 

One of Ward’s greatest strengths in her writing of The Tragedy of Heterosexuality is her unique approach to issues of heterosexual men and patriarchy. Instead of simply using the rampant evidence of the oppression of women to criticize men and their heterosexuality, she claims that much of heterosexual culture would be improved if men actually like women more. While we often view heterosexuality and patriarchy as men’s control of women through their lust and desire for women, Ward writes that “heteromasculinity is characterized by a much weaker and far more conditional desire for women’s bodies than is often claimed” (Ward 19). At the forefront of her arguments is the idea that men do not actually like women very much, but instead, they like the power, control, and ownership that heterosexuality gives them. In her analysis of the history of heterosexuality in America, Ward writes, “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). Instead, Ward writes that straight men should look within themselves for a greater desire for women, not just sexually, but as people, which would result in greater respect for women. As Ward points out, in our intensely heterosexual culture, it is often in social differences between men and women that we are taught to see as desirable; it is from these differences that sexual and romantic compatibility emerges. However, more often than not, this is a falsehood. The strict gender binary culture of heterosexuality results in harsh, and often forced, differences between the genders that do not result in a desire for one another, but instead in annoyance and misunderstanding of one another. As Ward claims, a greater understanding between men and women, as well as greater acceptance of gender expression would result in men and women desiring one another more. This line of thinking, which is foundational to the arguments of the text, is a compelling and unique one that offers tangible ways in which cishet men can treat women better. 

Another strength of The Tragedy of Heterosexuality is Ward’s open critiques of white queer culture. Ward, even as a white queer woman, does not hold back in her criticism. She writes, “Many queer subcultures, like straight culture, are built on intersecting forms of violence: anti-Blackness, misogyny, transphobia, ableism, and economic injustice. . . In other words, taking queerness seriously as a cultural formation distinct from straight culture does not obscure hierarchies among queer people” (Ward 119). While uplifting queer, and particularly lesbian, culture, Ward still takes a critical view and acknowledges the racism and other injustices that are often far too present within white queer culture. In particular, she is critical of white gay male culture, writing that “Gay men, especially white gay men, are often the greatest defenders of the narrative about queer suffering, probably because they have more power and privilege to lose as a result of inhabiting and nonnormative sexual orientation (and sometimes a nonnormative gender)” (Ward 3). So, while being critical of heterosexual culture, Ward is still able to express her critiques of queer culture, as well as the extreme differences between lesbian culture and gay male culture (and particularly white gay male culture) which are rarely discussed. Ward’s ability to present a nuanced view of white queer culture speaks to the quality of her writing and the arguments in The Tragedy of Heterosexuality. 

While The Tragedy of Heterosexuality has many strengths in its arguments and methodology of writing, it could include more quantitative studies and research. Ward cites evidence throughout the book, such as quotes from other feminist scholars, as well as evidence such as ads and media sources that display gender roles. In the fourth chapter of the book, she even conducts her sample study in which she surveyed and quoted people within her own queer community about their views of heterosexual culture. While the quotes from queer people in her life provided relatively sufficient evidence of her claims, I believe that she could have strengthened the chapter by expanding her research and giving a survey to a much larger group of people outside of her own queer community. Conducting research about queer views on heterosexual culture could have provided Ward with more compelling evidence to back her claims. However, Ward does acknowledge the challenges of conducting this type of large-scale research, writing, “Suffice it to say that the kind of quantitative data that would be most useful to the queer feminist investigation at hand are, by their very nature, limited. The field of critical heterosexuality studies is still in its infancy, and ‘straight culture,’ so hegemonic as to be unnameble outside of queer space, is a relatively new object of inquiry” (Ward 27). As Ward points out, The Tragedy of Heterosexuality is a unique work in a relatively new field, so finding and conducting sufficient research can be difficult. 

In The Tragedy of Heterosexuality, scholar Jane Ward addresses large-scale issues of American heterosexual culture that few have before. With intersectionality in mind, she encourages men to look to lesbian queer culture as an image of how women should be treated, desired, and loved, all while encouraging women to hold high standards for the men in their lives. The text is sufficiently nuanced, especially in its allyship and encouragement towards straight people, as well as its accurate critiques of queer culture. I believe that this relatively-accessible text is one that everyone should read and could benefit from, regardless of gender or sexuality. This thought-provoking and unique text could help anyone and everyone reimagine the oppressive heterosexual culture that has been ingrained in our society.

Works Cited

Ward, Jane. “Jane Ward: Scholarship for the Feminist Future.” Jane Ward, https://www.janewardphd.com/. 

Ward, Jane. The Tragedy of Heterosexuality. New York University Press, 2020.

Is the Uterus Really to Blame: Review of Andrew Scull’s Hysteria: The Disturbing History

A recent Grey’s Anatomy episode opens with discussions about hysteria: “In the 1800s, one of the more common reasons women visited the doctor was hysteria—a now-defunct diagnosis. Hysteria was used to describe a wide array of symptoms: chest pain, anxiety, a swollen abdomen, mood swings. They tried a variety of treatments for hysteria ranging from rest to psychosomatic therapy. But true relief for these women didn’t exist until physicians tried using what they called ‘pelvic massage.’ The cure was called a hysterical paroxysm which today has come to be known as an orgasm” (“Let’s”). But what is hysteria? Why was it associated with women and cures associated with sex? What caused hysteria? Andrew Scull, a Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego, who has researched and written about the history of psychiatric illnesses for more than three decades, attempts to answer these questions. His scholarly monograph, Hysteria: The Disturbing History, highlights the shifting perspectives on the root cause of hysteria while simultaneously revealing shocking elements of history. 

While female history is no longer recognized in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Fifth Edition, manifestations of hysteria are recognized in diagnoses of illnesses such as Schizophrenia, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Panic Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, among other mental illnesses. Alas, understanding the history of hysteria is pertinent when forming perceptions and educating oneself about mental health and mental illnesses. Scull recognizes this in his “biography of what contemporaries saw and interpreted as hysteria” as he discusses hysteria’s “fascinating and tortuous medical and cultural history” (6, 8). Scull’s work propelled him to receive the Roy Porter Medal for his lifetime contributions to the history of medicine and the Eric. T. Carlson Award for lifetime contributions to the history of psychiatry (“Andrew”). His research for Hysteria: The Disturbing History serves as an essential base for developing a comprehensive understanding of psychiatry today.

Continue reading “Is the Uterus Really to Blame: Review of Andrew Scull’s Hysteria: The Disturbing History”

Pharrell Williams: Blurred Misogyny 

Pharrell Williams: Blurred Misogyny 

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. 

#Sharetheload

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.”

https://youtu.be/QAxm23SjHDo

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!

“Gender” Reveal Gone Wrong: Gender Reveal Celebrations that Leave Behind Casualties

Boy or girl? Pink or blue? Penis or vagina? Imagine a newborn is on the way and a party is being thrown to celebrate this big milestone. Most of us have probably seen videos of joy on the faces of those celebrating this occasion. Maybe we’ve been to a celebration like this on our own, or even had one thrown for us, but what we don’t see are the casualties of some of these extravagant gender reveal parties and what gets left behind. 

Gender reveal parties are a common practice that many couples do to celebrate their expected child. But a time that is meant to be celebrated for some could have horrible repercussions for others. Matt Bernstein (he/they) with the Instagram handle @mattxiv who identifies as a “queer Jew with very long nails” in their Instagram bio recently posted about the horrible effects that over the top gender reveal parties could cause and brings into question the need for this practice that informs others of an unborn baby’s genitalia. 

Matt Bernstein’s Instagram post about gender reveals

This Instagram post has pictures, videos, and captions that all show how something as common as a gender reveal party is actually very absurd. It starts by saying that “society has progressed past the need for gender reveals” which sets us up for the rest of the post that then shows a gender reveal party where a couple puts blue dye in the water and celebrates that their expected child has a penis.

But this isn’t all that this couple and their loves ones are celebrating. They are also celebrating the fact that they are assigning a gender to their child based on the child’s genitalia and all the gender norms that go with the idea of being a boy with one of them being the color blue when the color blue doesn’t innately have a gender. These parents already made an important decision for their baby who can’t even talk yet. The gender these parents are assigning to their unborn child shapes the way this child will grow up from what they wear to how they act. Gender isn’t something that should be assigned, but instead chosen by each individual. 

Matt Bernstein’s Instagram post about a couple that polluted a water source for a gender reveal party. Source of this story is the Washington Post.

The couple shown in the Instagram post above are just one of the many couples who decide to celebrate their child with a gender reveal party. The blue dye shown in the waterfall at this couple’s gender reveal party contaminates a primary drought-stricken water source in Brazil for the town of Tangará da Serra (Paúl, Washington Post). Water is a human necessity and this couple’s celebration has taken that away from many locals in the area. This moment of celebration created a human rights issue.

Matt Bernstein’s Instagram post about extreme gender reveals

But this isn’t the only sad gender reveal story. Bernstein goes on by noting other gender reveal story headlines including, “2 dead after plane crashes during gender-reveal stunt in Mexico” (Deliso, ABC News Network) and “Gender reveal party couple face jail over deadly California wildfire” (BBC News). We now see that these extreme gender reveals that happen annually “have caused wildfires, plane crashes, and numerous deaths” (Bernstein). Gender reveal parties are widely celebrated and it’s a big issue not only for the extreme ones where someone has to figure out where to get their water, die, or go to jail; but also innately because these gender reveals are assigning gender to babies who can’t talk. 

Matt Bernstein’s gender reveal analogy Instagram post

After posting about situations where gender reveals have gone wrong, Bernstein tries to put the idea of gender reveals in a way people might understand. A clip from the cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants shows SpongBob tripping over a rock while carrying a pie that gets thrown onto Squidward’s face and blows up all of Bikini Bottom which is the town they live in. The analogy of SpongeBob SquarePants shows that something as seemingly harmless like a pie could cause so much damage to the surrounding town. This is just like those who do gender reveals without thinking about the consequences. Those who throw this party are only thinking about the fun everyone is having for a moment and not the long term harm. 

Matt Bernstein’s Instagram post about gender reveals

The post is then ended with the caption “if you feel compelled to tell everyone about the genitalia of your infant, just send out an email.” Bernstein once again shows how absurd this practice of gender reveals are by mentioning sending out an email that tells people of the unborn baby’s genitalia. 

Gender reveals are all based on genitalia. If a baby has both genitalia from the two different binaries, a parent may choose to pick one over the other so that it fits one of the two binaries. This could hurt the child in the long run who may have wanted the other genitalia that their parents didn’t choose for them and removed.

After analyzing this post, some questions need to be asked. Why is it called a gender reveal when what is actually being revealed is the sex of the child and not the socially constructed ideas of gender? Why aren’t there other genders being revealed and what colors would they be? Why are there no other colors besides these two? How are colors gendered? Why can’t we as a society say bye bye to the binary? There are no new genders being “revealed”, just the same two. It should be called a sex reveal instead! The people who do these “gender” reveals probably don’t know the difference between the two. Education about these topics are important and have been increasing slowly over the years, but more needs to be done. Gender reveals are so ingrained into society that these “gender celebrations” probably won’t stop anytime soon. How many casualties will it take to stop this practice?

Sources

Paúl, María Luisa. “They Dyed a Waterfall for a Gender Reveal. an Investigation Followed.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 30 Sept. 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/09/30/gender-reveal-waterfall-brazil-dyed/. 

Deliso, Meredith. “2 Dead after Plane Crashes during Gender-Reveal Stunt in Mexico.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 1 Apr. 2021, https://abcnews.go.com/International/dead-plane-crashes-gender-reveal-stunt-mexico/story?id=76824951. 

“Gender Reveal Party Couple Face Jail over Deadly California Wildfire.” BBC News, BBC, 21 July 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-57898993. 

The Perpetuation of the Sapphire Stereotype: The Portrayal of Serena Williams as an “Angry Black Woman”

Media Analysis: Hale Robinson

“2018 US Open Highlights: Serena Williams’ dispute overshadows Naomi Osaka’s final win”

The origins of the words “sapphire,” “mammy,” and the stereotype of an “angry black woman (ABW),” date back from the 1800s to mid 1900s where caricatures, cinema, and other forms of media perpetuated these racial tropes (“The Sapphire Caricature”). The term sapphire was originally used to portray black women as angry, rude, loud, malicious, and masculine (“The Sapphire Caricature”). Often, sapphire imagery is accompanied by black men to demonstrate how “through her use of verbal putdowns” the black woman emasculates the man, “robbing” him of his manhood (“The Sapphire Caricature”). Similarly, the “mammy image” was created to justify the economic exploitation of house slaves where black women are “penalized if they do not appear warm and nurturing (Collins 267).” More modern examples of sapphire depictions are coined with the term “ABW.” While there is little empirical evidence supporting the stereotype that black women are more aggressive by nature, the U.S. mass media continues to push ABW headlines, videos, and imagery (J. Celeste).

Serena Williams is widely renowned as one of the greatest women’s tennis players of all time and an incredible overall athlete. She retired as a tennis legend with a total record of 858-156, 6 U.S. Open Championships, and 23 Grand Slam titles (“Serena Williams Fast Facts”).

While Serena Williams’ success is celebrated, she unfortunately became a target of the ABW stereotype on several occasions throughout her career. There are numerous videos titled “Serena Williams Rage Compilation” posted on social media platforms in addition to hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles covering her sporting disputes and frustrated moments. In fact, Williams’ portrayal as an ABW in the mass media is so significant that if you were to do an image search of the term “angry black woman,” the first few pictures are of Williams.

Of the many sources covering Serena Williams’ career disputes, I focused on one video published by the largest American cable sports coverage network, ESPN. The video, titled “2018 US Open Highlights: Serena Williams’ dispute overshadows Naomi Osaka’s final win,” covers the 2018 US Open Championship between Serena Williams and Japan’s Naomi Osaka. The video begins with a clip of Williams breaking her tennis racket out of frustration. The video crew proceeds to zoom in on the broken racket and then later replays the clip of a frustrated Williams throwing her racket down. Soon after, the referee accuses Williams of receiving coaching and cheating.

On multiple instances, Williams demands an apology from the referee stating, “you are attacking my character.” In response to this, the referee gives Williams yet another violation. While disputes and frustration often go unpenalized and are often overlooked or granted leniency in men’s tennis, Williams received multiple penalties for her actions. When pleading her case, Williams notes, “because I’m a woman you’re going to take this away from me.”


While the contents of the video itself are controversial, I additionally wanted to focus on the ways in which ESPN perpetuates the ABW stereotype through the title of the video, the clips they provide, and the specific zoom and camera angles chosen. Although the video is titled “U.S. Open Highlights,” very few clips in the video are dedicated to the tennis match itself. Rather than replaying points and impressive displays of athleticism, the “highlights” in this video are clips of a frustrated Serena Williams. The camera angles and zoom were methodically used in a way to emphasize Williams’ anger with an example being the amount of screen time Williams’ broken racket received and the frequent replaying of Williams arguing with the referee. By doing this, ESPN paints Williams as angry, similar to how post slavery media pushed the agenda that Black women were angry, aggressive, and emasculated men by “failing to be submissive.” Furthermore, the video title states, “Serena Williams’ dispute overshadows Naomi Osaka’s final win.” By naming the video in this way, it paints Williams as the “bad guy” and accuses her of ruining Osaka’s moment. This depiction of Williams as aggressive and malicious is representative of 20th and 21st Century ABW media.  In addition to the title, the video’s description is equally disappointing…

While the match showcased the skill of two amazing Black female athletes, ESPN implies that the match will only be remembered because of Williams’ quarrel with the referee. Not only does this take away from Osaka’s victory, but it places further blame on Williams.

Through the notion of sapphires, mammies, and more recently “angry black women,” Black women have continued to fall victim to racial stereotypes depicting them as aggressive, malicious, and out to emasculate men. Following the 2018 U.S. Open Championships, ESPN perpetuated these racial tropes via a “highlight video” that covers a dispute between Serena Williams and a referee. While male tennis players receive little backlash from similar actions during matches (e.g., John McEnroe was known for his outbursts throughout his career), Williams was accused of “overshadowing” Naomi Osaka’s win and was given three penalties. While the term sapphire may be a thing of the past, the theme of portraying Black women as angry and aggressive in the media continues.


Sources

Collins, Patricia Hill. “Race and Ethnicity.” Controlling Images and Black Women’s Oppression , pp. 266–273.

ESPN. 2018 US Open Highlights: Serena Williams’ Dispute Overshadows Naomi Osaka’s Final Win. Youtube, 8 Sept. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiBrForlj-k.

J. Celeste Walley-Jean. “Debunking the Myth of the ‘Angry Black Woman’: An Exploration of Anger in Young African American Women.” Black Women, Gender + Families, vol. 3, no. 2, 2009, pp. 68–86. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/blacwomegendfami.3.2.0068. Accessed 6 Oct. 2022.

“Serena Williams Fast Facts.” CNN, Cable News Network, 16 Sept. 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2013/09/13/us/serena-williams-fast-facts.

“The Sapphire Caricature.” Ferris State University, https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/antiblack/sapphire.htm.


Does Gender Exist in Heaven and Hell?

Crowley, played by David Tennant (left), and Aziraphale, played by Michael Sheen (right). 

The Amazon Studios T.V. series Good Omens was released in 2019-2020 and is based on a 1990 book of the same title by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Set in London, the series tells the story of the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley. At the show’s beginning, Aziraphale and Crowley have worked together for eleven years to raise the antichrist, hoping their respective influences will neutralize his power and prevent Aarmageddon. However, they discover that they raised the wrong child, and the real antichrist has been misplaced. Now, they must find him before it is too late, dragging other beings–human and otherwise–into their caper as they go.

Good Omens poses an interesting question: does gender exist in Heaven and Hell? The answer is surprisingly straightforward: no it does not, or at least not in the way it does on Earth. According to the show’s lore, angels and demons are sexless, but can exhibit different sexes and genders in their “corporations” with a snap of their fingers. Choosing a sex disrupts the theoretical connection between gender and sex and allows each character to break, use, or reject all human gender norms. Characters in closer proximity to humans trend to use the binary, and those indifferent to humans are more fluid. This focus on gender as linked to humanity suggests that gender is a human construction rather than inherent or God-given, contrary to popular interpretations of Christianity. As these characters choose their gender, they provide excellent examples of diverse gender presentations, demonstrate how T.V. should handle ideas of gender, and assert that all gender presentations are valid. For brevity’s sake, I will focus on the non-human characters because they present more interesting interpretations of gender, starting with the protagonists.

Prior to the show, Crowley and Aziraphale have “fraternized” for about 6000 years. Throughout that time, in order to blend in, they have undergone the human process of finding aspects of gender that feel right to them. Even as societal ideas of gender change, they both follow a masculine pattern. They use he/him pronouns, wear “masculine” fashions (ranging from togas to suits), and choose masculine aliases like “Anthony.” They also align with masculine stereotypes; Crowley projects the tough-guy cliche while Aziraphale remains the dapper gentleman. Thus, the preference for masculinity is found, not assigned by sex or God. Through frequently choosing male genders, they create human personas for themselves so that performing gender is also performing humanness. 

Masculine presentations

Occasionally, an ethereal or occult being steps out of their favored gender presentation to achieve a goal, such as becoming the antichrist’s nanny. Nanny Ashtoreth appears only briefly in a flashback, but provides excellent trans representation. There is a long history in film of men in women’s clothing or trans women being the butt of the joke, but this scene is entirely serious. We understand that Crowley’s gender change is not an experiment or anything out of the ordinary; he is simply performing a gender that will get him the job he needs. The show’s context also provides the information that he lives as a woman for eleven years, demonstrating that he is not only performing the gender “woman,” but that heisa woman, regardless of any previous presentations.

If we step out of the fictional world of the show, we can also see that David Tennant’s costume reflects the normality of this gender change. Tennant wears a blazer, skirt, and hat that fit within Crowley’s preferred clothing style down to the matching color scheme. The clothes resist using spectacle or drawing attention to the fact that this is a male actor in women’s clothing. However, director Douglas Mackinonn also chose not to downplay this fact by casting an actress as the nanny. This portrayal reinforces that Nanny Ashtoreth is Crowley even if he is in a different bodily form or performing a different gender. Crowley utilizes both ends of the gender binary but is rarely seen in an androgynous form. However, his and Aziraphale’s colleagues in Heaven and Hell are often combine multiple aspects of gender at once.

Heaven and Hell have characters who do not limit themselves to the gender binary. These characters are intentionally written without gender, allowing the casting to focus solely on who fits the role best. This then allows for interplay with who portrays these characters and the genders they do or do not perform. Archangel Michael, who is nearly always male in religious contexts, allows a masculine name to coexist with she/her pronouns and is played by Doon Mackinchan. Similarly, Beelzebub is played by Anna Maxwell Martin, but uses he/him pronouns. This bending of genders also extends to other non-human beings. One of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, War, who is often personified as masculine, is distinctly feminine here. Some characters reject gender entirely. Pollution, another horseman, uses they/them pronouns perhaps because pollution is a genderless concept, or perhaps because they are too busy wreaking havoc to choose a gender. Unlike Crowley and Aziraphale, these beings take little interest in human lives, so their performances of gender are looser. These excellent interpretations of gender do not end with the Good Omens canon. The fandom of the show has taken that canon further with the support of the show’s creators. 

War and Pollution

In the Good Omens fandom, all interpretations of the characters’ genders are correct. Fans have created art of Crowley and Aziraphale as women, as a heterosexual couple, as gay men, and more. This art might be a reflection of fans’ desire to possess this power of escaping the gender binary or easily changing their gender presentation. 

“Gender?”
“Ineffable Wives”

Some fans have tried to narrow the range of gender possibilities. One fan asked producer/co-author Neil Gaiman over Twitter, “Is Crowley gender-fluid” (Mr. Relentless)? Gaiman replied, “Crowley’s Gender is Fallen Angel,” suggesting that Crowley’s gender is hardly his defining feature. Good Omens asserts that while gender is a human construction, all gender orientations, combinations, and expressions (or lack thereof) are valid (Neil Gaiman). As evidenced by the dedicated fans, many people find this show to demonstrate good depictions and increase visibility of people outside the gender binary. So while humans cannot change genders at will, perhaps we and other media can look to Good Omens as an example of how to further explore genders. 

Works Cited: 

  1. Good Omens. Written by Neil Gaiman, directed by Douglas Mackinonn, Amazon Studios and BBC Studios, 2019-2020, performances by David Tennant, Michael Sheen, and Frances McDormand.  
  2. “Crowley and Aziraphale.” RadioTimes. Jun 30, 2021. https://www.radiotimes.com/tv/fantasy/good-omens-2-crowley-aziraphale-romance-newsupdate/. Accessed Sept 24, 2022. 
  3. “David Tennant’s Iconic Crowley Looks | Good Omens | Prime Video.” YouTube. Uploaded by Amazon Prime Video UK, April 11, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03G_QjcAd-A&t=141s. Accessed Oct 3, 2022. 
  4. “Fall Asleep To Nanny Crowley’s Lullaby 🎶 #Shorts.” YouTube. Uploaded by Amazon Prime Video UK, Apr 20, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FB3SXx_2A74. Accessed Oct 3, 2022.  
  5. “Four Horsemen // Good Omens // Villain [+rus sub].” YouTube. Uploaded by SIDANI, Jun 4, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3UU2Qt75xc. Accessed Oct 3, 2022. 
  6. Mr. Relentless [@RelentlessHimbo]. “Hey @neilhimself is Crowley genderfluid or are we looking too deep into it? Sorry to bother you.” Jan 29, 2022, 4:30 pm., https://twitter.com/neilhimself/status/1487538631946371073?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1487538631946371073%7Ctwgr%5Ed0a0ac7302fad9067cbe212b028c1525490a1314%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fscreenrant.com%2Fgood-omens-crowley-aziraphales-genders-neil-gaiman%2F
  7. Neil Gaiman [@neilhimself]. “Crowley’s Gender is Fallen Angel.” Jan 29, 2022, 4:30 pm. https://twitter.com/neilhimself/status/1487538631946371073?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1487538631946371073%7Ctwgr%5Ed0a0ac7302fad9067cbe212b028c1525490a1314%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fscreenrant.com%2Fgood-omens-crowley-aziraphales-genders-neil-gaiman%2F
  8. “Gender?” thegoodomensdumpster.tumblr.com. https://thegoodomensdumpster.tumblr.com/image/186215878402. Accessed Sept 30, 2022.  

“Ineffable Wives.” Pinterest. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/70437481906134/. Accessed Oct 2, 2022.

All About That… One Body Type

All About That Bass Official Music Video

I love Meghan Trainor’s song “All About That Bass” in which she is apparently encouraging women to embrace their curves and hating on the idea that women should be “stick figure, silicone Barbie dolls.” The message that she is conveying though could actually be counterproductive to a societal norm of recognizing beauty in all body types. 

Firstly, the message that Trainor is sending through her lyrics is that female bodies are inherantly sexual and that women should embrace their curves because “men like a little more booty.”

She additionally says that she has “all the right junk in all the right places,” meaning that she has curves, or fat, in places on her body that are generally considered attractive and/or sexy, probably her ass and her breasts. This line makes it seem as though Trainor believes that there is a right place for fat on a female body and that fat should enhance a woman’s sexual features. The idea of women being fat in only specific places on their bodies in order to be more sexually attractive is definitely not a fat positive or feminist stance on female bodies. Fat can be considered sexy in any place in the body, from the belly to the back to the cheeks to the ankles, and Trainor is unfortunately just enforcing another impossible stereotype for women. 

Also, fat should not be seen as something sexual, neither should a lack of fat. Human bodies are made for so much more than sex, and female bodies in particular are seen so often in culture as symbols of sex, and being a fat sex symbol is no better than being a skinny one. Trainor uses the idea that men like fat asses to make fatness seem acceptable. Telling women that men like a specific trait and that makes it a good trait is certainly not a feminist idea. I should be allowed to live in my own body without having to justify my beauty by saying that men think I’m sexy so it’s ok.

One lyric from this song talks about “skinny bitches” and definitely gives a negative connotation towards skinny women, implying that being fat is better than being skinny. In this way, Trainor is trying to impose a new standard of beauty that is just as unattainable for some people as being super skinny is by shaming skinny women. “Skinny shaming” should not be a substitute for fat shaming, we shouldn’t be shaming anybody about their body type!!

As if the lyrics aren’t enough, the music video for Trainor’s song is just as damaging. Trainor and her four main backup dancers, as well as the other female presenting dancers in the video, are all pretty much the same body type, and they aren’t even fat! 

In a song that is supposed to be about empowering fat women, having a bunch of women who, while they might not be stick thin, certainly aren’t fat, play as if they are fat is incredibly damaging. Additionally, Trainor has two young girls as dancers in the video who are very thin, sending a message to the young girls who watch the video that this is the ideal body type for their age.

The only truly fat person in the video for a song ABOUT BEING A FAT WOMAN is a MALE presenting dancer who doesn’t even get much screen time.

In a society that shames fatness, telling women that very mid-sized people are the fat people in our world completely discounts a whole group of people AND makes mid-sized people think that they are fat, which is damaging in a world that shames fatness.

In addition to the lack of size representation in the music video, the lack of racial representation is prominent, too. Depending on what you consider “dark-skinned,” there are no more than three dark-skinned people, one of them being one of the children, one of them being a backup singer (most of whose face is covered by a wig), and one of them being part of Trainor’s main group of backup dancers, in a cast of about 14.

None of these cast members get much screen time. There do not appear to be any Asian, Latinx, Native American, or any other races of cast members. The only races shown are black, white, and mixed black and white races. There are only two male presenting cast members in the video, and the white man is meant to represent a potential boyfriend type for Meghan Trainor.

So, the main takeaway I get from the combination of the lyrics and the video from All About That Bass is that white (sometimes black) women should strive to have big butts, avoid being skinny, avoid being fat, and to do all of this in order to be sexually appealling to convintionally attractive white men. Definitely not the fat power anthem that we need.

“The Invention of Women:” A Review for Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyěwùmí’s Revolutionary Book

In 2011, Beyoncé asked, “Who run the world?” and answered, “Girls.” Almost a decade later, many of the protest signs at the Women’s March on Washington featured this same declaration. Worthy as it may be, Nigerian sociologist Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyěwùmí’s first book, The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses, which provides a deconstructive analysis and history of womanhood and gender—and their absence— in Yorùbán society, presents a strong case against the idea that “girls” are, and have been, a global and universal social category. As evidenced by the title, The Invention of Women, Oyěwùmí lays out how “the fundamental category “woman,” which she claims is “foundational in Western gender discourses,” “simply did not exist in Yorùbáland prior to its sustained contact with the West.” (Oyěwùmí x) Moreover, Oyěwùmí presents evidence for how the Western constructions of gender, as well as sex, were brought to Yorùbáland and implemented in such a way that they became salient social institutions that eventually led to the “patriarchalization” (86) of Yorùbán history and society and as a result, the subordination of what is now the category of women.

Before I begin to review and summarize the work of Oyěwùmí in The Invention of Women, I want to foreground her definition of gender as it forms the basis of her analysis. Oyěwùmí considers gender to be “an institution that establishes patterns of expectations for individuals based on their body-type, orders the social processes of everyday life, and is built into major social organizations of society, such as the economy, ideology, the family, and politics” (39).

The work of Oyěwùmí in her 1997 monograph takes the boundary pushing scholarship of sociologist Judith Lorber and others at the time who were focused on the construction of gender, and complicates it by noting that gender was not only socially constructed, but that it was socially constructed in the West and is therefore not applicable transnationally or transculturally. To set the stage for her argument, Oyěwùmí speaks to the characteristics of Western thought that allowed for the construction of gender. She contends that the somatocentricity (ix) of Western thought, in which biological determinism is the basis for the organization of society, coupled with the West’s “privileging of the visual,” (3) made the physical human body “the foundation of social thought and identity” (x) and thus subject to the creation of gender. Oyěwùmí makes it clear that in contrast to the West, Yorùbán society, prior to Western contact, did not privilege the visual sense or the body in its construction of sociocultural meaning.

Oyěwùmí then goes on to explain the ways in which Yorùbán society was organized absent of gender and sex. One key tenet of Yorùbán society that Oyěwùmí explains is the “centrality of the family compound,” rather than gender, “in defining the status of residents” (44). People who married into a household, or “ilé,” were known as “aya,” while those in the household were known as “ọkọ.” The “aya” was considered an outsider while the “ọkọ” was considered an insider and their relationship was ranked such that the “ọkọ” was “the privileged senior” (44). Overall, the hierarchy of Yorùbán society was based on age—with older people having the most status— and thus “social positions of people shifted constantly in relation to those with whom they were interacting” (xiii).

In the latter half of the monograph, Oyěwùmí speaks to the process in which gender was brought to Yorùbán society through missionaries and the imposition of the British “patriarchal colonial state” (123). Because “access to power was gender-based” in Britain, the British arrival in Yorùbáland led to the creation of “women as an identifiable category, defined by their anatomy and subordinated to men in all situations” (123). Oyěwùmí claims that one the most impactful aspects of colonialism that led to this subordination was the colonial educational system as it excluded those under the new category of women. This in turn led to the creation of a stark gender divide in terms of power, wealth, and status, which Oyěwùmí claims is an impact that is still felt in “the contemporary period” (128).

In the final pages of her book, Oyěwùmí widens her focus and criticizes the way in which “womanhood has been pathologized, at a global level” (177). As a result, Western feminists have assumed that the experience and subordination of women is universal without recognizing that this represents a “globalization of what was once a local Western preoccupation” (177). However, because colonialism imprinted gender and the category of women on Yorùbán society, Oyěwùmí speaks to the challenge of “present[ing] alternative ways of looking at anatomic sex-distinctions without pathologizing the female” (178).

I believe the greatest strength of Oyěwùmí’s The Invention of Women lies in the fact that it paints a holistic picture of Yorùbán society and culture before gender was introduced, as well as after colonial contact. As a result, I was able to understand the way in which specific cultural institutions were changed and perverted in the formation of male hegemony in Yorùbán society as a result of colonialism. Oyěwùmí also relies on primary sources, such as Yorùbán elders, to make her argument without preemptively imposing foreign cultural concepts, such as gender, on her research, which she claims is often the case with Western and Western-educated researchers. In her words, “Researchers always find gender when they look for it” (31).

A challenge I would levy on the work on Oyěwùmí in her monograph is the lack of elaboration on her very brief mention of homosexuality. In a discussion around sexual relations in precolonial Yorùbán society, Oyěwùmí contends that “homosexuality does not seem to have been an option” (63) without any further elaboration. Feminist, academic and human rights activist Sylvia Tamale, in her essay, “Confronting the Politics of Nonconforming Sexualities in Africa,” reveals that in many African cultures, there are examples of nonconforming sexuality while noting that “the context and experiences of such relationships did not mirror homosexual relations as understood in the West, nor were they necessarily consistent with what we may today describe as a gay or queer identity” (Tamale 35). Thus, without assuming the presence of homosexuality and nonconforming sexuality in precolonial Yorùbán culture, I wonder whether or not it is even possible to state that these sexualities were absent given Oyěwùmí’s evidence of the absence of gendered identities. In other words, how would nonconforming sexuality be conceived without the construction of gender? Additionally, Oyěwùmí claims that “issues of sexuality were not really issues of morality” (Oyěwùmí 64) until the arrival of Christianity and Islam. Thus, what is nonconforming sexuality when there is no conception of moral, normative and conforming sexuality? Nevertheless, I think Oyěwùmí’s work would be strengthened with a deeper interrogation of homo/nonconforming sexuality in precolonial Yorùbán culture in addition to a discussion on the impact colonialism had on notions of homo/nonconforming sexuality.

All in all, Oyěwùmí’s The Invention of Women is a fairly accessible and relatively short monograph that is not only vital to understanding how gender is constructed, but also vital in that it problematizes the supposed universality of the construction of gender. This book is suited for anyone interested in the intersection of gender and colonialism, for Oyěwùmí reveals how the colonial project in Nigeria was inseparable from the imposition of gendered identities and a gendered hierarchy. Finally, if there’s anything to take away from this review it is this. Next time you hear/say/think “Fuck the patriarchy!” think about the contributions of Oyěwùmí, and how they might inform your answer to this question raised by philosopher and art historian Nkiru Nzegwu: Is patriarchy a “valid transcultural category of analysis?” (21).

Brandon Reid Feminist Mixtape: Flawless- Beyonce and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

For my feminist mixtape assignment, I decided to submit Beyonce and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s hit song “Flawless.” For context, Beyonce is a Black woman music artist who grew up in Houston, Texas. According to Wikipedia, Beyonce’s mother is Louisiana Creole and her father is African American. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi is a Black woman writer who spent her childhood in Nigeria. Adichi’s parents are both Nigerian, and according to Wikipedia, Adichi has worked to support LGBT rights in Africa.

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Feminist Mixtape: “The Pill” by Loretta Lynn

In our society, women are expected to want nothing more than to have kids and stay at home to take care of them, whereas men’s work for the family is considered done once the child is conceived. No one bats an eye when fathers spend most of their time out of the house while the mother is always at home with the kids. Many women resent this expectation and wish to be able to be more than mothers and have other life experiences and careers. In her song “The Pill”, Loretta Lynn condemns the way in which women are expected to be mothers and nothing else. She celebrates her newfound access to ‘the pill’, as in the birth control pill, that has given her her freedom back in the sense that she now has autonomy over her own body and reproduction. This control over her life allows her to choose to be more than just a mother and do the things that she has always wanted to do.

She reveals how she has felt that she was treated like an animal with the line “you’ve set this chicken your last time”, in which she demonstrates how she feels as if she’s been seen as a farm animal whose only job is to reproduce. In this way, she describes how she’s felt more like a body than a person. She recounts how “all these years I’ve stayed at home while you had all your fun” and she was forced to be the only one taking care of her children while her husband could leave the house to have fun, and that now that she can control whether or not she has kids, she can enjoy all of the things that life has to offer that she was unable to before. Not to mention the physical and economic toll that comes with giving birth, as Lynn feels that “all I’ve seen of this old world, Is a bed and a doctor bill”. Women are forced to deal with the effects of being pregnant and having children, and thus this is why it is so important for people who are able to get pregnant to access to birth control methods that allow them to choose when they want to pregnant or not. This is a problem that is still prevalent today as the debates about reproductive rights, Planned Parenthood services, and abortions are all topics of political debates in which women’s access to these fundamental services is revoked.

As a wealthy white woman, Lynn’s song most closely resembles the first-wave feminism movement in which white women were the central figures and women of color were pushed to the wayside. Lynn neglects to reveal anything about the expectations for white women versus women of color and the intersectionality that is so clearly present between gender and race. In addition, birth control is not accessible to all people who need it and wealthy women are going to be more likely to have access to these reproductive products than women of low socioeconomic status. LGBTQ perspectives are also important to consider, as we need to remember that women are not the only people who require these types of reproductive products and transgender individuals are likely to have even more trouble gaining access to birth control methods. While Lynn provides an important perspective on how autonomy over our own reproductive processes can lead to a plethora of new opportunities for women, there is much to feminism that is not represented in her song.